Policy Institute opposed to gas extraction

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Bereng Mpaki

THE Policy Analysis and Research Institute of Lesotho (PARIL) has called on the coalition government to shelve plans to prospect shale gas as this could create serious environmental problems for the country.

PARIL says the project should be dropped on the grounds that it violates the country’s mining and environmental laws in that no environmental impact assessment (EIA) was conducted prior to the awarding of exploration rights to a private joint venture.

The laws in question are Mines and Minerals Act 0f 2005 as well as the Environmental Act of 2008.

In April this year the Ministry of Mining announced it had signed a memorandum of agreement with Thaba Naledi Energy (MORADI (PTY) LTD I81/156 and Mr Brian Basil HAMBLETON JONES) for the first ever exploration adventure of shale gas in the country.

In terms of the MoU, Thaba Naledi will map the geological area, determine the environmental baseline, assess the amount of gas produced, test and monitor ground water contamination and monitor potential seismic interferences.

Shale gas is natural gas that is tightly locked within low permeability sedimentary rock. It is a source of energy whose value has grown rapidly in recent years around the world. It can be used to produce fuel and lubricants among others.

However, in a presentation  made at a recent National Conference on Natural Resources Governance that was organised by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), PARIL warned that hydraulic fracking, which is the process employed in the extraction of the gas, could severely affect Lesotho’s ground water quality and destroy its tourism prospects.

Fracking is a common technique for stimulating the flow of oil and gas from shale deposits that could not be economically exploited using conventional well techniques.

In industry terms, fracking (or hydraulic fracturing) is often used to refer only to the portion of the well‐drilling process during which the bedrock is fractured.

Numerous formulations of chemicals are used in fracking fluid. However, formulations are considered proprietary and their components are not disclosed.

It is typically 95% water, 4.5% sand or other proppant to keep fractures open and 0.5% chemicals. However, since it can take between 15 and 25 million litres of water to frack a well, that can mean between 70 and 125 tonnes of chemicals injected into the ground per well. A well is fracked many a time which can lead to this process being repeated several times. Cubic Fill (TCF).

Speaking to Lesotho Times this week, PARIL Executive Director Lehlohonolo Chefa said the past regime had misdirected itself in forging ahead with the shale project despite the apparent dangers that could cause to the inhabitants of the country.

“Because no EIA was conducted, we are venturing into an industry which we have not done due diligence on its benefits and negative ramifications,” Mr Chefa said.

He further indicated that Lesotho does not have the regulatory capacity to oversee the mining process, be it either on laws, skills or regulating institutions.

Lesotho has a number of laws regulating the mining sector but none of them seem to deal specifically with hydraulic fracking.

The current laws include the Mines and Minerals Act 2005, Precious Stone Order 1972, Mine Safety Act 1981, Precious Stone (Kimberley Process) Regulations 2003, Mines and Minerals (Amendment), Precious Stone (Diamond Dealer’s Grant and Renewals) Regulations 2004, and Precious Stone Order 1970 Regulations.

“At the moment we are unable to sufficiently regulate our mining operations to a satisfactory level on environmental issues due to under-capacity, and therefore taking decision to begin shale mining is just too big a step which I think we are not yet ready for as the country,” Mr Chefa said.

He said the highly toxic chemicals used in the mining process would pose a big challenge for the country to regulate and ensure that they do not contaminate the country’s water sources.

“We cannot even regulate simple things like rat poison, and now we think we can regulate fracking chemicals?”

Mr Chefa has recommended that Lesotho should concentrate on agribusiness, water bottling, tourism and other sectors where it has a comparative advantages as well as reducing the risk of pollution.

“We are blessed with an abundance of organic water sources which we have developed. And the shale mining threatens that advantage.”

For her part, acting Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Mining ‘Mantsoanelo Monyobi, said Lesotho needed to review its laws in order to accommodate the necessary process involved in shale mining.

“Shale gas represents a major new source of fossil energy. However, shale gas development must occur with the corresponding investment in monitoring and research addressing the impacts on the environment, public health, and communities.

“Lesotho cannot make an environmental assessment of the Karoo’s shale gas exploitation by hydraulic fracturing with the currently available Legal Framework.

“Thus, the Geoscience shale gas project will serve as a baseline study for future shale gas research work and play a vital role in review of Mines and Minerals Act on petroleum,” Ms Monyobi said.

 

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