Sham Panel to Decide on Fracking in South Africa


In May, I wrote a cautiously optimistic article about the South African government’s decision to put a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, the super-controversial, water-intensive and environmentally dangerous technique for extracting shale gas from underground layers of rock, also referred to as fracking. I warned at the time that this was hardly likely to be the end of the story on fracking in South Africa and it’s increasingly becoming clear that my initial scepticism about the moratorium and government’s intentions was well founded.

After announcing the moratorium, the government established a task team of experts to investigate the implications of shale gas fracking in South Africa. On the 18th of July, a spokesperson for the Department of Mineral Affairs said that this task team was expected to report to the minister heading the department, Susan Shabangu, “in a matter of weeks rather than months.”

Opponents of fracking, myself included, were taken aback. How was it possible for the panel to come to a decision on such a complex subject in such a short time? The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently engaged in a multi-year investigation into fracking and its results are only expected to be made public next year. How could the South African experts conclude their work so much faster and without knowledge of the outcome of the significantly more high-powered EPA study? Sounds fishy, doesn’t it!

Until recently, the composition of the task team has been the subject of much speculation, but this week it became clear that it is everything but an inclusive or representative body. In reply to a question by an opposition politician, Minister Shabangu revealed in parliament that neither the Department of Water Affairs nor the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries are represented on the panel. Considering the fact that fracking requires — and potentially pollutes — millions of litres of water, it makes absolutely no sense to exclude these two ministries in the discussion, especially in a country that is already seriously water-stressed.

Of course there are also no members of the tourism or transport ministries, none of the farmers who will be affected, no labor representatives, local business or tourist groups, no civil society or environmental organizations and — heaven forbid — no members of the public on this panel of experts. Apparently Shabangu feels that the public has already had the opportunity to comment on the official applications made by various oil and gas companies that are planning to explore for shale gas in South Africa and that there is no further need for public participation in the process. Doesn’t sound very democratic or transparent, does it?

It turns out that the “working group” established by the task team includes only representatives from the Petroleum Association of South Africa, the Council for Geosciences and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. Jonathan Deal, chairperson of the Treasure the Karoo Action Group, a civil society organization opposed to fracking, expects that the task team will give fracking “the green light” and while it doesn’t have any decision-making powers, its recommendations will have a very significant influence on the course of action that government will take with regards to fracking. He warns that “the constitution of the team and the exclusive nature of its mandate renders any report from it worthless in the debate on fracking.”

Of course the task team could still surprise us all with a vote of no confidence in fracking, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I suspect that we will have to continue to fight some very hard battles to keep this destructive and short-sighted technology out of our country. Watch this space.

Andreas is a book shop manager and freelance writer in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath


Photo from: Stock.Xchng


Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener6 years ago

Of course sham, nobody in his right mind would ever condone this vile form of ecocide!

Melanie Andrus
Melanie Andrus6 years ago

The poll is misleading - what kind of "experts"? If they are environmental, ecological and natural resources experts, then the answer is "yes".

KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B6 years ago

Agree with Nicole W.

Ernie Miller
william Miller6 years ago

Buddy F. I am glad you understand gravity. However do you understand Chemistry? how chemicals mix and how many gasses are lighter than air and most are lighter than water so they come to the surface and are not affected by gravity the same way? Do you comprehend that the gas is trapped in the rock and when nast chemicals are forced into the cracks the break the rock letting the gas out? Gravity dosent pull it deeper into the earth it explodes and rushes to the surface agaist your gravity theroy. as it comes to the surface it draws the polutants forced into the ground to come up thru the ground water poluting it on the wat to the surface where it polutes that also? Ya I drive a car and I believe that the price of gas shoule be about $25 a gallon or higher forcing people to find modes of transportation that is environmentally friendly. I think I was in about the 3rd grade when I learned about oil gass and water and which came to the top to coat the surface and which left the surface to displace molicules of Oxigen and hydrigen weakening and poluting the air we need to breath. I sugust you try breathing benzine of any of the other chemicals forced into the ground and see how long you remail alive.

Derp Herpington
.6 years ago

If fact just switching to solar cars would not only dramatically help our economy, it would also dramatically help the environment.

Derp Herpington
.6 years ago

Buddy F. "Do you drive a vehicle that uses gas? If you do then stop complaining about where the gas comes from. How does fracking at 9,000 to 10,000 ft affect the water at 200-300 feet?"

You are such an idiot.

See there's this thing called GRAVITY. When something is on a higher level (like the pollution from fracking) it tends to go to a lower level. That's how gravity works. I believe the concept is taught in 1st grade, and the fact you don't know about it...well it just doesn't speak well for your education.

As for oil dependence;

Give them everyone cars so that they never have to pay for gas, and make sure those cars have solar panels on them so they are always charging. The financial offset alone would dramatically help our economy.

Derp Herpington
.6 years ago

So let's destroy almost all the rainforest in Africa with unfettered cut and burn to gain farm land that yields LESS food than the rainforest it replaced, and now lets tear up the ground to ruin what little of the ecosystem remains.

Sounds like a recipe for famine and death to me.

Buddy Fazzio
Buddy Fazzio6 years ago

Do you drive a vehicle that uses gas? If you do then stop complaining about where the gas comes from. How does fracking at 9,000 to 10,000 ft affect the water at 200-300 feet?

If you benefit from oil then stop complaining. Unless you are ready to go back to horses and covered wagons stop complaining. Until you come up with a solution that makes the practice unneeded stop complaining.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W6 years ago


heather g.
heather g6 years ago

The Poll doesn't make sense. What is the point in a further investigation when anyone can read about the disasters that follow fracking in other countries.
I don't hold out much hope as someone is probably well on their way to earning a lot of money from the SA Govt. If they didn't listen to the consequences of fish-farms located at sea, then they are not doing proper studies before doing ahead and destroying South Africa's beautiful environment...
I hope there is a really outspoken and active group preventing fracking taking place. In England fracking caused some small earthquakes and it is now banned !!