On 18 June 2015, EMG co-hosted a public seminar on fracking. The event took place at Alternative Information and Development Centre, a Cape Town based NGO active on social and economic justice. An award-winning new documentary produced by Alliance Earth, The High Cost of Cheap Gas, was screened as a catalyst for discussion. Guiding the discussion were a panel of representatives from EMG, Alliance Earth, Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG) and Centre for Environmental Rights (CER).
The seminar was well supported by civil society and a diversity of voices contributed to an interesting discussion. Issues of major concern for South African civil society, surfacing from the documentary and discussion, include sourcing of water, water pollution, impact on livelihoods, agriculture and tourism, jobs, development options, climate change, alternative energy provision and the role of South African companies in the region.
The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) on fracking recently launched by the SA government was welcomed. It has been long-called for. The stated terms of reference for the SEA, however, appear highly problematic from both a decision-making and participation perspective (see www.seasgd.csir.co.za).
The assumption behind the SEA is that should sufficient gas be found in the exploration stage, fracking will go ahead. It is not apparent that a no-go option is being considered; nor are alternative sources of energy clearly identified as a strategic option for investigation by the SEA. This begs the question of how strategic the SEA will be. In regards to the issuing of licences by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) to explore for shale gas, it was felt that licences should at the very least only be issued after the SEA has been completed. Issuing licences before the potential impacts have been fully researched casts the SEA in a token light.
The provision for public participation in the SEA also appears weak. The webiste states that the only way in which public concerns will be considered is through formal comments on the written documents developed by SEA specialists. This effectively excludes almost every South African, and certainly biases participation away from the people most likely to be affected. The flipside to this is that the nature of this opposition to fracking provides an important opportunity for South African civil society to organise across economic, racial and cultural divides.
Short of amending the scope and process of the SEA to address these shortcomings and to better reflect the Principles outlined in Chaper 1 of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), the discussion led to a civil call for reinstatement of the moratorium on shale gas exploration, at least until after the outcomes of the SEA have been realised to support such a decision.