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Fracking victory for KZN farmers

7 Aug 2019

The Mercury

LYSE COMINS

Petroleum firm withdraws exploration application

AGRI SA and attorneys, acting for farmers in some of the major exploration applications, have welcomed a victory in the anti-fracking fight after a US-linked petroleum firm withdrew its application to explore for oil and gas on KwaZuluNatal (KZN) farms.

Hans-Jurie Moolman, of Moolman & Pienaar attorneys, an attorney acting for a landowner affected by an exploration right application lodged on farms owned by Normandien Farms and other farmers, said they had recently learned that petroleum firm Rhino Oil and Gas Exploration South Africa had withdrawn its exploration rights application for Normandien Farms.

He said another law firm acting for Normandien Farms which had been preparing for an appeal it had lodged in the Constitutional Court regarding the matter had been informed of the withdrawal by Petroleum Agency SA (Pasa).

Respondents in the matter were Pasa, Rhino Oil and Gas and the minister of Mineral Resources.

Rhino Oil and Gas has also lodged a separate exploration right application with Pasa to explore for oil and gas on almost 6 000 farms covering more than one million hectares of prime farmlands and environmentally sensitive areas, including the uKhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Site.

Moolman said the Constitutional Court matter came after Rhino Oil and Gas had earlier won its appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) to explore farms in KZN owned by Normandien for potential gas reserves.

This was after Normandien had won its bid in the Western Cape High Court, to have the acceptance of Rhino’s exploration right application and other preliminary steps it had taken reviewed and set aside.

The firm had applied to conduct a desktop and aerial survey of the farms to identify potential mineral reserves.

Moolman said when attorneys had gone ahead to file and deliver Normandien’s founding affidavit for the Constitutional Court appeal they were informed by Pasa that Rhino Oil and Gas had formally withdrawn the formal exploration right application for the farms on July 24.

“We are extremely happy, although it is a bit early to claim victory.

“But we are confident that it’s a good sign of things yet to come.

“We are also extremely pleased with the hard work and perseverance of the legal team in that matter,” Moolman said.

He added that an internal appeal to the minister of Minerals and Resources had been filed regarding the legality of the firm’s exploration right applications, including those affecting almost 6 000 farms in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State.

Moolman said the application to explore for oil and gas on the almost 6 000 farms in KZN was still pending, although Rhino had not yet filed its environmental scoping report for environmental authorisation.

“We are optimistic in the sense that we have also been informed there has not been any opposition to our internal appeal yet, which was supposed to have been filed by July 26,” Moolman said.

“This is all positive feedback insofar as affected landowners are concerned. We really hope to soon see a result with regard to that appeal.

“We are confident that we have put in sufficient measures to contest these applications, but it will be a bonus to get a quick result in the same way as this (Normandien) matter,” he said.

Rhino Oil and Gas chief operating officer Phillip Steyn had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

Janse Rabie, head of natural resources at Agri SA, which represents 28 000 farmers in 1 000 farmer associations nationally, welcomed the news that the application had been withdrawn.

Agri SA has vehemently opposed moves by Rhino Oil and Gas to explore for oil and gas, saying it was concerned that fracking would pollute the country’s scarce water reserves.

About 25% of the country’s water is generated in the KZN Drakensberg area.

“We’re delighted about this development but will remain vigilant about proposed gas developments in the province and elsewhere in South Africa,” Rabie said.