The Departments of Environmental Affairs, Science and Technology, Energy, Water Affairs and Sanitation and Mineral Resources jointly announced the initiative this week.
Whilst the assessment will take two years, the Department of Mineral Resources has indicated that it would allow companies to undertake exploration work and is urging the cabinet to pass a legislative framework to allow this.
The assessment will include biodiversity and the ecosystem; water protection of both surface and groundwater; public health impacts; air pollution; noise and visual impacts; geology; economics; how shale fits into the national energy plan; management of waste and the impact on a ‘sense of place’.
Science and technology minister, Naledi Pandor said: “we believe that this will assist government to create a framework and guiding principles to inform responsible decision making.
“The Strategic Environmental Assessment will consider both exploration and production related activities and impacts of shale gas development, including the process of hydraulic fracturing, and will include an assessment of all material social, economic and biophysical risks and opportunities presented.”
The SEA will be led by Professor Bob Scholes from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR); Scholes stated that the study will include both opponents and supporters of fracking to ensure the process was “salient, legitimate and credible”.
Chief executive of the Treasure Karoo Action Group said he was “most encouraged” by the announcement and said it will “inject a crucial scientific dimension to the decision-making process and play a significant role in driving… the final decision in connection with fracking”.
Pandor ccontinued, “if indeed viable deposits are found in South Africa, shale gas, as a relatively lower carbon energy source, presents significant transformative potential for the South African economy.”
Environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa added, “South Africa, like most countries around the globe, is mindful of the need to seek alternative energy sources like shale gas.”