If Shell’s plans to “frack” for shale gas in the Karoo are found to have a negative impact on the region’s water reserves, it will not be issued a water license, Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said on Thursday.
Responding to questions during a media briefing at Parliament, ahead of a debate on her department’s Budget vote, Molewa was reluctant to respond to questions on the oil company’s application to drill 24 boreholes in test areas spread across about 90,000 km2 of the Karoo.
She said she was also the environmental affairs minister, and in this capacity would be expected to adjudicate on the matter.
“This puts me in a situation where I’m actually a referee… I will have to adjudicate over it, if it takes off… I’ve got to stay out of this as much as I can, so when the time comes for adjudication, I have not been an involved party.”
She also noted that the ministry of mineral resources was currently handling the matter.
However, asked if — in her capacity as water affairs minister — she could say whether her department would issue a water license to Shell, Molewa said this depended on the results of an impact assessment, which would first have to be done.
The department considered all applications for a water license, “and always, where there’s been negative impact, we have said either no, or advised how to get around it”.
Molewa said if an application was deemed “closer to being detrimental”, it was “obviously and always a no-no”.
Thursday is the deadline for Shell to submit an environmental management plan (EMP) on its plans to carry out hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, in the Karoo.
This follows the exploration application it made in December last year.
Hydraulic fracturing is a technique for extracting shale gas from deep underground by pumping a pressurised mixture of water, sand and chemicals down drill holes. Shell, controversially, is planning to do this in the Karoo.
Each so-called fracking event requires millions of litres of water.
Karoo residents and others are up in arms over Shell’s plans, saying, among other things, that hydraulic fracturing poses a chemical risk to ground water in the region.