Dubious gas rights deal
Pietermaritzburg - A one-man show run from a shared office block in Cape Town has obtained the largest exploration rights in KwaZulu-Natal.
Rhino Oil and Gas Exploration South Africa, which has its corporate office in the known tax haven of the British Virgin Islands, and with no known black economic empowerment partner, has landed not only a 1,5-million hectare exploration right in KZN, but similar rights in the Free State and Eastern Cape covering 73 876 km². The company also boasts off-shore rights in Namibia, the Western Cape and Senegal.
With the multinational subsidiary’s notice of application for environmental authorisation lambasted in the media recently, environmentalists have hit back, citing the vagueness surrounding the exploration as a major cause of concern. The Witness has since found that Rhino Oil and Gas Exploration South African director Phillip Steyn operates from a single office in Cape Town’s Icon Building, with no secretary and works off a Gmail account.
The Witness tried to contact Steyn several times via telephone, SMS and e-mail over a period of three days. However, he could not be reached. The company had recently lodged an application for an exploration right with Petroleum Agency South Africa (Pasa).
Oil, gas, condensate, coal bed methane, helium and biogenic gas are some of the minerals the exploration hopes to uncover through seismic surveys and drilling planned for three years.
The company has maintained that fracking is not envisaged.
Pasa was contacted and after initially apologising for not answering several questions, no response was submitted before print deadline yesterday. The Department for Mineral Resources also referred The Witness’s queries from one person to another, and they too could not meet the deadline for response.
The exploration in KZN will include approximately 10 000 farms in areas like Richmond, Ladysmith, Dundee, Mooi River, Estcourt, New Hanover, Ashburton, Ulundi and Nkandla.
Environmentalists have slammed the move over concerns of potential fracking that may lead to widescale damage to the ecosystem. KZN-based NPO groundWork’s Bobby Peek said Rhino Oil and Gas Exploration have been “minimalistic” on what they intend to do if valuable minerals are found in KZN. “They [Rhino] might say there is no possibility of fracking, but what they are looking for could be fracked in the future,” Peek said.
Peek added even though farmers have a say in terms of negotiating drilling on their farms, farmers who have not applied for the rights to mine on their farms or have not used their right, could be overpowered by anyone who obtains the permission to do so.
Acting chair of the Midlands Conservancy Forum Sarah Allan said they are concerned about the affect of the exploration on key water resources in KZN.
“The drilling has potential for a huge impact on the quality and quantity of underground water resources which will in turn have a catastrophic impact on local agriculture,” Allan said.
A REPORT released by SLR Consulting, the independant environmental assessment practitioner for the project, shows the following preliminary issues and potential impacts have been identified and will be investigated as part of the environmental assessment process.
• Farm safety – access by unknown persons to farms has the potential to cause security risks on farms. Operating heavy vehicles and equipment may pose safety risks. Runaway fires may present a potential safety risks for both people and livestock.
• Farm infrastructure – farms roads, gates and fences may be damaged during exploration activity.
• Soil and land capability– activities at the seismic and drill sites may affect soils and land capability if poorly regulated and not rehabilitated.
• Biodiversity — activities at the seismic and drill sites have the potential to disturb and or destroy vegetation, habitat units and related ecosystem functionality, including the disturbance of protected species.
• Surface water — the proposed activities at the seismic and drill sites has the potential to pollute surface water resources through consumptive use and the discharge of contaminants.
• Groundwater — the proposed drilling has the potential to consume and contaminate groundwater resources, which could impact availability to other groundwater users and the ecosystem.
• Air — the proposed project has the potential to contribute to air pollution, particularly through dust emissions from vehicles on gravel roads and the release of gas from boreholes.
• Noise and vibrations — the proposed project has the potential to cause noise pollution during drilling activities. Seismic surveys may cause damage to structures and disturb livestock and wildlife.
• Socio-economic — the project has very limited potential to contribute towards socio-economic impacts, mainly because local people do not have the scarce skills required and migrant labour will have to be imported.
While positive impacts include job creation and stimulation of the local and regional economy, the potential negative socio-economic impacts include potential for increased crime, spread of disease and pressure on support services provision.
The Umzimvubu Catchment Partnership (UCP), an alliance of 34 local communities with straddles KZN and the Eastern Cape says it believes if Rhino Oil and Gas Exploration South Africa is granted permission to proceed with the early-phase exploration, it will lead to hydrological fracturing.
“We need farming, not fracking,” said UCP secretary Nicky McLeod, who is also an environmental scientist.
The mountains where the exploration is set to take place form part of the Drakensberg range bordering Lesotho. According to the map that is part of Rhino’s application, the area to be explored goes right up to the Ongeluksnek Wetlands which McLeod says replenish underground water for boreholes that supply water to local communities and also feed into the uMzimvubu River, providing water to many people downstream.
“The uMzimvubu system has been earmarked for a major water storage initiative and potentially even hydroelectric capacity. Unfortunately fracking and water conservation do not work together The fracking process needs up to 20 million litres of water per fracking well,” she said.
McLeod says studies done in countries where fracking has taken place show the negatives far out-weigh the benefits.
Tello Lephuthing is one of the people who support the idea of mining as he says it will provide employment and other benefits to the mostly rural communities
‘Unite against fracking’
Pietermaritzburg - Civic groups are rallying together in anticipation of trying to block plans for the controversial gas exploration in the province.
Rhino Oil and Gas Exploration South Africa, which has secured exploration rights totalling 1,5 million hectares of farmland in the heartland of KwaZulu-Natal including Pietermaritzburg, the Midlands and towards Ladysmith, is expected to begin next month with a series of public consultation meetings as required under South Africa’s stringent environmental laws.
While the company has said through their environmental consultants SLR Consulting, they aren’t proposing the use of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for the exploration process, a groundswell of opposition since the company announced its intentions last week, has grown exponentially.
The Witness previously revealed that Rhino, which has landed exploration rights totalling more than 73 000 km² countrywide, is registered in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands and is run by just one man called Phillip Steyn from a shared office block in Cape Town. Repeated daily attempts to get comment from Steyn have been unsuccessful.
Francios du Toit, the CEO of Pietermaritzburg-based African Conservation Trust, said he anticipated groups from a wide spectrum to put up their opposition against the exploration.
“The public consultation process is merely a tick the box exercise. We need to be unified in our vision to make sure we do not overlap. The area being explored is about 20% of the province. This is a health, environmental and social issue. We anticipate interest from a wide spectrum of groups from farming to church-based organisations as well as the larger organisations,” said Du Toit, adding that because of the size of the exploration area there was a need to have local groups at all 11 meetings beginning on November 2.
Operating under the name of the Sustainable Alternatives to Fracking and Exploration (Safe) Alliance, an e-mail forum yesterday e-mailed points the public should ask the consultants at the public meetings and offered advice on how to grow support against the fracking.
This includes a focus on health, hosting information sessions, creating a strong online presence and possibly obtaining an urgent court interdict to stop the entire process. One of the key strategies is to make it a “moral victory” while including the historical value to land, such as whether it is sacred.
The Witness has continued, since last week, to seek comment from both the Petroluem Agency of South Africa and the Department of Mineral Resources, however, at the time of going to print no response was forthcoming.
THE public outcry has led to an online petition gaining almost 1 000 votes to stop the intended gas exploration in KZN.
Environmentalist Nicky McLeod created the appeal, entitled “Don’t Frack South Africa’s Water Factory” on popular community petition website Avaaz.org.
By the time The Witness went to print yesterday, 890 signatures voted against the three-year exploration, some of which were signed by foreigners from Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Once complete, McLeod, who is campaigning against fracking in the Eastern Cape’s Matatiele, plans to deliver the petition to national minister of water and sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane.
“Fracking requires about 20 million litres of water for each drill site. Few people will have access to the skilled job requirements and thousands of rural people may be adversely affected through compromised health and farming,” the petition reads.
“We need renewable energy, not short-term fossil fuel extraction at the expense of our water and well-being”
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