The South African government has formally launched a ZAR12.5 million, 24-month strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of shale gas mining in the Karoo in an effort to understand the potential environmental risks of exploiting probable, but as yet unexplored, unconventional gas resources in the water-stressed territory. However, it has also indicated that it plans to allow energy companies to conduct parallel exploration activities, with the Department of Mineral Resources set to seek Cabinet approval imminently for supportive regulations. A project executive committee would be responsible for coordinating a multi-author drafting process, while a multi-stakeholder process custodian group would be established to oversee the governance of the process.
Energy Deputy Minister Thembisile Majola argued that the discovery of shale gas could change South Africa’s energy landscape and create the basis for an entirely new industry. Current estimates suggest that the Karoo basin could hold between 380 trillion cubic feet (tcf) and 485 tcf, but the actual size of the resource could only be determined by active exploration. Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa indicated that safeguards were already in place through South Africa’s existing environmental legislation to facilitate exploration while the SEA process continued. That said, the SEA outcomes would influence the future regulatory regime.