South Africa’s plans for shale gas development hit another roadblock on October 17 when the Grahamstown High Court set aside regulations issued by the government. South African Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane told Reuters that the government would appeal the decision and that it remained committed to shale gas.
This ruling, though, demonstrates the difficulty of pursuing such work, and is representative of responses that seem to be a staple of shale gas developments around the world.
The court found that the minister was not authorised to issue the regulations, which were published in June 2015. These regulations were based on provisions in the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) of 2002. However, the key sections of the MPRDA were repealed in 2013 and, therefore, were no longer applicable. The hearing was held in May.
“In my view, the respondent did not have authority to make the petroleum regulations” on shale gas development, Judge Gerald Bloem said. Further, he continued, it should be the Minister of Environmental Affairs “who should set the regulatory framework and norms and standards”, under the National Water Act and the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA).
Following filings from both sides, the ruling said “deep drilling and hydraulic fracturing have potential adverse environmental impacts”.
Despite these findings, the government remains committed to shale gas. “We will study the outcome of the court and decide where we go,” Zwane told Reuters. “We are talking about first fracking licences being granted in 2019 if everything goes well.”
The case in Grahamstown was brought by a number of farmers and unions, including the Buffelshoek Agricultural Union and the Jansenville Agricultural Union. The Agri SA pressure group described Bloem’s ruling as a “significant blow” against fracking.
A number of small companies are making plans to drill in South Africa – but not frack the wells, at least initially.