Published: 2011/03/25 06:32:35 AM
LAWYERS for Karoo residents and landowners, including businessman Johann Rupert and Dutch Princess Irene, say the draft environmental management plan (EMP) submitted as part of petrochemical giant Royal Dutch Shell’s application to explore the Karoo for shale gas does not comply with mining law.
The Petroleum Agency of SA (Pasa) will use the draft EMP to make recommendations to Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu on whether she should allow Shell exploration rights that will lead to its using the controversial hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technique to determine whether the Karoo’s shale gas reserves are worth exploiting. Ms Shabangu is expected to make a decision in August.
At issue for the thousands of people who have asked Graaff- Reinet lawyer Derek Light to oppose Shell’s application — which covers 90000km² of the unique Karoo biome — is that they have been asked to comment on a draft document, and that environmental consulting group Golder Associates is to publish a final EMP only on April 14, a week after the public comment deadline.
This does not comply with the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, Mr Light said yesterday.
If Pasa did not allow time for comment on the final document, the group, which was joined yesterday by AgriSA, would consider using the legal appeal process , or the high court, he said.
Citizens were entitled to a fair and reasonable administrative process, and that meant they were entitled to information and an opportunity to comment on that information, Mr Light said. The EMP produced was also "worthless" because it did not describe what fracking chemicals, waste disposal methods and other procedures would be used.
"How do you comment on a document you haven’t seen? In our objections (to be submitted by the comment deadline) we will alert Pasa to this and ask that we be allowed to comment on the final document ," said Mr Light.
Shell SA chairman Bonang Mohale said recently the company would defend such actions.
Golder Associates environmental assessment practitioner Brent Baxter said the law required that an EMP be submitted 120 days after an application was accepted. That would be April 14. After that Pasa had 120 days in which to assess the final EMP .
The final EMP would be published on its website and would show where and how the draft had been changed, Dr Baxter said. Citizens could comment directly to Pasa in this time.
Pasa CEO Mthozami Xiphu said the agency would assess Shell’s EMP when it was published on April 14.
Fracking was "one technique among others". It was not necessary, as the Democratic Alliance has suggested was prudent, to delay a decision on fracking until it had a hydraulic fracking policy, and until the US Environmental Protection Agency’s study on the effects of fracking is published next year, Mr Xiphu said.
He said Pasa could not delay assessing Shell’s application until after the US research was published because the law said a decision had to be made within 120 days of filing an EMP.
The Department of Mineral Resources said the minister could not use the pending results of a study in another country as a reason for not making a decision she was legally required to make.