/ 25 November 2012

DA unsure of fracking stance

The DA is to debate the issue of fracking in the Karoo after a resolution passed stated the party's support for it
The DA is to debate the issue of fracking in the Karoo after a resolution passed stated the party's support for it

The Democratic Alliance's federal congress is debating the party's stance on controversial hydraulic fracking in the Karoo – after a resolution supporting the process was passed without correct procedures being followed.

"Certain delegates were unable to voice their opinions on the matter, so we shall lead a short debate after lunch to resolve this matter," DA federal chairperson Wilmot James told delegates on Sunday.

The congress originally resolved to change the party's stance on the process from opposing to supporting fracking.

"Fracking must happen, but … in a responsible way," Robin Carlisle, Western Cape minister of transport and public works told the congress earlier in the day.

While resolution 24 originally proposed no fracking until certain conditions were met, it was changed to the party being in full support of the process provided certain conditions were met.

Main provisions the DA seeks to be met before fracking is undertaken are:

  • A strategic environmental assessment to eliminate all "unknowns" and facilitate responsible decision making;
  • Fracking be undertaken in accordance with land use planning by local and provincial authorities; and
  • Appropriate legislation be put in place to govern fracking, with tough penalties implemented for contravention of said laws.

The move by the opposition party follows a September decision by Cabinet to drop a moratorium placed on the process.

A number of gas and oil companies, including Shell, Falcon Gas and Oil, and Sasol had applied for prospecting rights over areas of the Karoo when the department of mineral resources instituted the moratorium last year.

Fracking uses a mixture of sand, chemicals and vast quantities of water to release shale gas reserves trapped underground.

Gas is seen by many, including South Africa's national planning commission, as a means to bridge the country's electricity supply shortages.

Critics fear the process of fracking will contaminate water supplies in an already dry area, and damage air quality.

But, James Lorimer, the DA spokesperson for Mineral Resource, downplayed the change though, arguing that it was mere "semantics".

"We have a lot more terms for governing this process, so it’s not a case of us backing down on the potential for environmental disaster," Lorimer tod the Mail & Guardian.

Lorimer added the DA could not ignore the potential job creation and economic development that could be enjoyed through fracking.

"We cannot be seen to be against the prospect of massive job creation and economic opportunities for the people of South Africa," he said.

Lorimer also argued there was added pessimism directed towards fracking based on the current government's performance.

"This government has a terrible record of economic stewardship," he said. "But that should not be the reason we say no to the possibilities fracking provides."