Fracking continues to be a volatile and emotionally charged issue, particularly in the Eastern Cape where vast tracts of the Karoo have been earmarked for shale gas exploration. And much like key services such as health, education and housing, fracking looks set to be another critical issue that will be politicised in the run-up to the elections this year. As yet another political carrot being dangled in front of the economically disenfranchised rural electorate, the promise of energy and economic liberation will obscure the potential environmental, infrastructural, health and social problems associated with fracking.
In an article entitled “ANC, DA both support fracking” in the Herald on 17 January 2014, DA policy on fracking was described as advocating a “more cautious route”, but was still deemed to be supporting fracking as opposed to the precautionary approach in the event of fracking going ahead that the policy proposes. In fact, the Eastern Cape Democratic Alliance, at a Provincial Congress in Grahamstown in March 2012, adopted a motion that opposes fracking unless it can be proven that damage to the environment, agricultural production and health can be avoided.
Some of the DA’s concerns have been addressed in the DA policy on natural resources: environmental affairs, fisheries, water management and mineral resources, published in December 2013 in which strict guidelines are provided for in the event that fracking goes ahead. However, this is merely the platform from which the DA intends to influence the implementation of a sound regulatory framework through ongoing engagement at all levels.
In the Eastern Cape Legislature, the DA, through Hon. John Cupido MPL, Provincial Spokesperson on Environmental Affairs has put pressure on the Provincial Portfolio Committee to take a stance on fracking, particularly with regard to the potential impact shale gas exploration will have on our roads, healthcare and social needs. In response to such pressure, studies have been undertaken in the Province which recommended opposition to shale gas exploration on the basis of the negative impact thereof. The MEC has subsequently set aside the report, citing insufficient information to support the recommendation.
In contrast, it appears that National Government is attempting to balance the interests of the environment and the economy through the development of a regulatory framework that encompasses draft technical regulations published for comment by the Department of Mineral Resources in October 2013. In addition, the Department of Water Affairs has declared an intention to declare fracking a controlled activity in terms of Section 38 of the National Water Act.
While this may appear to indicate a willingness to adhere to best international practise, as espoused by the Ministerial Task Team, the fact remains that any assurances given by the ANC government regarding the implementation and monitoring of a strict regulatory framework for shale gas exploration and extraction offer cold comfort in the face of rampant corruption and the large-scale disregard for the Rule of Law we are experiencing under Zuma’s ANC.
And although the potential issues of lack of compliance with regulations and corruption should not be a major factor in the development of a policy stance on fracking, the Democratic Alliance in the Eastern Cape believe that hydraulic fracturing should not be undertaken until such time as guarantees can be given that our regulatory framework can protect the environment and that there is political will to ensure that financial and political interests do not supersede environmental and social interests.
The Eastern Cape Democratic Alliance, particularly within the areas earmarked for fracking, does not support shale gas exploration and extraction. However, in line with our national policy, we strive to seek a balance between ensuring a healthy, sustainable environment and addressing the triple threats of inequality, unemployment and poverty faced by our communities, through the promotion of sound policies, stringent regulations and clean governance, as already evidenced in areas where we govern.
Samantha Jankovich, Karoo-Midlands constituency spokesperson on fracking