Gas Exploration: More reasons why a moratorium is in order
13 April 2011
For a whole host of reasons the Democratic Alliance (DA) has been calling for a moratorium on the granting of gas exploration rights. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is the process used to test whether shale gas will flow, is not regulated by any policy in South Africa, and the legal processes that govern the awarding of rights have serious unintended consequences for land use management and spatial planning. It has emerged that, compared to coal, shale gas is at least as bad if not worse as a source of climate change in terms of inducing green house gas emissions. An academic paper by Cornel University professor, Robert Howarth, which is about to be published in the journal, Climatic Change, seriously challenges the view of many applicants for gas exploration rights that the exploitation of shale gas can be used as part of South Africa’s transition to a low carbon economy.
Today, I will write to the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs alerting her to this study, and asking her to engage with the Minister of Mineral Resources on this matter. It is the Minister of Mineral Resources who ultimately signs off on gas explorations, after receiving recommendations from Petroleum Agency South Africa (PASA). But it is the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs who is the custodian of efforts to mitigate climate change.
Upon submission of the Environmental Management Plans, PASA is expected to consult with various government department and agencies. The Department of Environmental Affairs has to date remained quiet on the matter of gas exploration applications. In reply to a DA parliamentary question, the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs stated that, with regards to the impacts on water, more research on fracking is necessary. When asked by the DA whether she would meet with the Minister of Mineral Resources on the matter of fracking, she sadly stated that it was not necessary at this stage.
But the case against fracking in South Africa has developed substantially over the last two months. The Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs and both the Departments of Environmental Affairs and Water cannot sit back and simply allow the law as it relates to the granting of gas exploration rights to take its course. There are simply too many uncertainties. The environmental concerns are real and the opposition to fracking by South Africans is substantial.
While the results of the study by Professor Howarth are not uncontested, they do indicate that there are concerns about the levels of greenhouse gases emitted from shale gas. Not only is CO2 released when shale is burnt but methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, can leak during the drilling process.
South Africa makes much of its commitment to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions in the future. It has made commitments following the Copenhagen Accord to deviate its emissions from the business-as-usual scenario after 2020. It will be hard enough to complete the deviation considering our growing use of coal. Exploiting shale gas in addition to coal will make it harder. We cannot ignore new research and we need time to engage with its findings.
The DA once again calls on the Minister of Mineral Resources to institute a moratorium on granting gas exploration rights. And we believe it is time that the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs joins this call.
Gareth Morgan MP
Shadow Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs
072 528 3910
DA Media Officer
072 226 9759
Gareth Morgan MP is the DA's Shadow Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs. He worked as a high school teacher in KwaZulu Natal before attending Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, where he read Politics, Philosophy and Economics and also completed a Masters Degree in Environmental Change. He was first elected to Parliament in 2004.