Hard to read notices situated on quiet rural roads may have alerted some residents about the Applications to explore for oil and gas in KZN and the Free State, but certainly most people in the area had no idea.
As is required by the EIA process, EIMS, who are the consultants for the Sungu Sungu and Motouane Energy arranged a series of Open Days in late July to inform residents about the applications and what exploration will entail. Niven Reddy of groundWork attended the meeting on 26 July in Ladysmith Town Hall (Motuoane Energy Exploration). “When I got to the venue it was almost empty. The concept of an open day does not work for people who want emphasis placed on the objection.” Of course, the consultants know this and hope to dilute the energy generated by a crowd, by sitting around all day answering individual questions as a few people wander in. EIMS Bongani Khule explained that there will be some emissions from the drilling site for exploration – in order to test the gas. The vibrosis/seismic surbveys will be done first. This will give them an idea as to where the boreholes should be constructed. Motuoane Energy plans the construction of four boreholes – each borehole area is 30×30 meters.
Adele Slater, representing the farmer’s associations, had gone through the scoping report document carefully and had a thorough look into the legislation. She presented well backed-up objections and asked many procedural questions, which the consultants agreed to investigate, correct and report back on.
The next day, also in the Ladysmith Town Hall, EIMS were representing Sungu Sungu who are a South African, fully BEE company based in JHB with mining interests and have an Oil & Gas division. They have a mine in KZN.
Once again, attendance was poor with only five people having signed the register during the day. However, some tough questions were asked, particularly regarding any possible contamination of water (because it isn’t mentioned in the report) and the fact that water would be obtained locally through land owners and local municipalities. Department of Water Affairs would need to approve a water use license.
- 15m3 of water would be required per well.
- Bentonite (clay mixture) solution to be added to the water.
- Brian Whitfield (Project Manager) claimed that the diamond core drilling is 100% certain to prevent contamination of groundwater.
- They propose using 10 existing boreholes that were constructed by Soekor Pty Ltd.
- They will construct a further 10 boreholes in the vicinity of the existing 10.
- Brian also claimed that he asked Sungu Sungu to be straight about their intentions and if they plan to frack. They claim they won’t be fracking.
Realizing that the long Open Days were a tactic to avoid confronting angry groups, local activist, Cecile Wykes, had written to EIMS before the meetings telling them that they planned to hold a Public Meeting on their planned Open Day on 28 July at Harrismith Town Hall.
There was a fantastic turn out as over 100 farmers, representing all the major Farmers Associations from Mont Pelaan, Verkykerskop, Van Reenen, Ladysmith and Harrismith turned up at 10am to voice their strong objection to this application. EIMS were clearly surprised and had to quickly add more chairs to the 10 or so they had put out!
Once again, attorney, Adele Slater went through the documents thoroughly and noted many inaccuracies. These included incorrect farm and municipality names, lack of consultation with the occupiers of state land and questions about how the application had been advertised. By the end of the discussion it was evident that there were many flaws in that report. When EIMS asked that we shared the info with them, Judy Bell spoke from the floor “You cannot expect us volunteers to do the work on behalf of the applicant. You say you meet International Best Practice but either you are deliberately misleading us with false information or are incompetent. This application is fatally flawed!”
Industrialist, Willie Esterhysen was clearly angry that he had not been notified properly. “Not only am I the biggest employer in Qwa Qwa but I also makes the biggest contribution to the economy of the local municipality with our wage bill, rates and taxes. The Phuthaditjhaba area is one of the poorest areas in South Africa. Here people can not afford to lose their jobs. Studies have shown that due to the unemployment rate of 83% in this area, one job feeds as many as 15 mouths. It is clear that fracking in this area could lead to factory closures because of negative effects on the environment and water resources. This will cripple an already poverty stricken community. It will cause increases in crime, losses in local tourism and agriculture.
I am at an age where I can retire any day but I am fighting this fight for this community, for people who do not have access to newspapers or television. If I have to close my factory today because of the effects of fracking not even 3% of my employees will find another job in the formal employment sector. It is therefore my moral duty to fight this fight on their behalf.”
The report contains no information on the social impacts and the jobs that might be available. When asked directly, Nobuhle Hughes (EIMS) admitted that there would be only a handful of highly skilled jobs created.
A paleontologist, who works in the region, pointed out that there were no seSotho or isiZulu speakers present, and the fact that no easily understandable summary of the process had been made available in Afrikaans or seSotho. He wondered if those communities had any idea of the nightmare about to descend on their lives and livelihoods. “97% of people living in this area would be unable to understand this Scoping Report and the dire consequences of the future planning with this project.You clearly have little regard for the Traditional People of South Africa.” He mentioned that many springs and water sources were considered sacred and a full Paleontological Impact Assessment (PIA) would need to be conducted for the entire area of the application as part of the Heritage Impact Assessment.
Nobuhle Hughes (EIMS) answered a question about when and where baseline water quality and quantity sampling will take? “We will consult with the geohydrologist during the EIA phase to determine where sampling will be conducted or required.” Again it was pointed out that any drilling for hydrocarbons will impact water quality. Before the exploration began, they need to do a desktop PIA and if they did not, a phase 1 PIA would be required. This is important as baseline data is needed before placing exploration boreholes.
Clearly the farming and business community is united in their opposition to these applications. They believe the applications should be withdrawn and the correct processes must be followed. EIMS got more than they bargained for in the peaceful country towns of Ladysmith and Harrismith.