A presentation in Howick by Rhino Oil and Gas on its fracking proposal on Wednesday afternoon was met with enormous public opposition as soon as the meeting began.
Tensions ran high as agitated Midlands residents described Rhino’s presentation on their environmental impact assessment as “the first step on the road to disaster”.
In early 2015, Rhino Oil and Gas lodged an application for an exploration right to explore for petroleum products (including oil, gas, coal bed methane and helium among others) with the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (Pasa).
According to the environmental impact report by SLR Consulting, the purpose of exploration is to identify if any commercially viable reserves of oil and/or gas exist.
The initial exploration application covered around 1 500 000 ha of land, over approximately 10 000 properties. The application listed Rhino’s potential activities as various non-invasive and remote exploration techniques, drilling up to 10 core boreholes and 125 km of seismic survey acquisition.
Rhino recently reduced the exploration area by excluding all “known” protected areas.
Rhino also excluded land that was “unlikely to be prospective for oil or gas”, reducing the proposed exploration area to 850 000 ha covering around 6 700 properties.
The report stated that Rhino would also exclude ground-based core hole drilling and seismic surveys from proposed “early-phase exploration” work. Surveys of the land would be done through an “aerial full tensor gradiometry gravity survey”.
This would involve an aircraft measuring the gravitational pull in the areas it flies over.
If the aerial survey application is approved, Rhino could conduct remote exploration and develop a more detailed understanding of the potential oil and gas resources in the area.
Should Rhino propose to conduct ground-based exploration, another application would have to be made to Pasa.
During yesterday’s presentation, many Midlands residents cited confusion over the report, the aerial survey and why alternatives to gas had not been considered.
One said the report was the “first step on the road to disaster”.
“All you are doing is identifying land you want to put a weapon of mass destruction on,” said the resident.
Another asked why the report stated that the aerial survey would be conducted at heights of between 80 m and 300 m, when the legal limit over rural areas was 167 m, and 750 m above the tallest point in a reserve.
A KZN Agriculture Department employee, who would not be named, said there was concern over the land use in the application.
“At the end, when it comes to the point of drilling holes, 100 years from now the effects will still be felt,” said the employee.
SLR Consulting’s Matthew Hemming said although the application for the aerial survey had been made, there was no guarantee that it, or possible future applications, would be approved.
He said that aerial surveys would be pre-planned and would comply with civil aviation laws.
Hemming added that South Africa was pro-gas and pro-renewable energy, but it was unclear what the country wanted exactly.
He said that an economic comparative assessment for gas and renewable energy would be done during a future environmental impact assessment.