Victories are rolling in for the anti-fracking lobby in KwaZulu-Natal. State entities along with murky prospectors have attempted to bulldoze through exploration rights, deliberately breaking the law and making it difficult for the public to object.
Despite the revolving door access to the state mining authority enjoyed by corporate miners, they have repeatedly been defeated by activists and farmers who know their rights and in May won yet another round in the Western Cape High Court.
Judge DV Dlodlo was persuaded by Normandien Farms – which runs both timber operations and a R40-million water-bottling plant on its farm near Newcastle – to stop all exploration in an 800,000-hectare area, conducted by Cape-based Rhino Oil and Gas Exploration South Africa (Pty) Ltd.
The relief was sought against the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (Pasa), responsible for the promotion of petroleum exploration and exploitation, the Minister of Mineral Resources, and Rhino Oil and Gas, because Pasa ignored key components of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA).
The interdict means Pasa and Rhino will need to restart the application process, setting back Rhino’s projected timetable by at least six months.
The exploration right sought by Rhino would allow the company to drill for hydro-carbon deposits which could, years later, lead to mining.
Pasa had accepted Rhino’s right to explore on 15 April 2016. The agency was then required to inform the affected landowners within 14 days of this acceptance to give them the opportunity to raise any objections. Instead, Pasa took 20 days to do so. Pasa then claimed it had faxed notices to be displayed at the magistrates’ courts in all six affected districts. But this was a lie. Some areas received the documents but lacked key documentation identifying the affected properties. Others got nothing at all.
When Normandien Farms challenged Pasa to prove they had informed the landowners, on 21 December 2016 they quietly published a notice of acceptance in the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Gazette.
“This publication was clearly an after-thought on the part of Pasa itself [and] constitutes an illegality. [The act] states… that the publication must take place within 14 days after the acceptance of the application for an Exploration Right. Pasa has therefore committed an illegal act,” said Dlodlo.
“I am of the view that a clear right for the interdict has been established by virtue of the undisputed failure to comply with [the act],” said Dlodlo.
This is the third victory for the KwaZulu-Natal farming community, winning purely on the basis that the prospective frackers and state officials had not played by the rules. In November 2016 legal action by farmers brought the ambitions of SunguSungu Gas to a standstill. As a result, the company withdrew its bid entirely to explore 565,000ha. This was followed by Motuane Energy, which applied to explore 77,490ha, but withdrew after legal action by farmers.
The structures of the exploratory companies are usually murky. The only common thread is they all seem to benefit from the revolving door between PetroSA, Pasa and other government energy parastatals and departments.
|Phillip Steyn, COO of Rhino Oil & Gas|
Rhino Oil and Gas is led by Patrick J Mulligan, a lawyer from Dallas, Texas. South African Phillip Steyn is the COO. The company is set up in two tax havens, with corporate headquarters in the British Virgin Islands and in Nevada, a US-based tax haven. Their BEE partners comprise former PetroSA executives Sastri Gounden and Everton September. September was fingered in the 2013 OilGate scandal. They also have a business registered in the Netherlands – another tax haven.
SunguSungu’s Joburg-based owner Thabang Khomo is a regular on the exploratory mining circuit. His junior partner is geophysicist Solomon Lephoto, a former PetroSA employee. Noseweek is aware they have been actively looking for investors.
Motuane Energy’s only director is Peter Price, a consultant engineer who has spent the latter part of his life bidding for foreign fracking interests. He is also part of the management team for Australian miner Challenger Energy which wants a slice of Karoo’s shale gas. He represented the lobby group Onshore Petroleum Association of South Africa (Onpasa) at the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for Shale Gas Development in South Africa. Government departments were also part of SEA.
Based on the SEA outcomes, Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane announced in March that fracking in the Karoo will go ahead.
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Shale Gas Development
Rhino Oil And Gas
Patrick J Mulligan
Onshore Petroleum Association Of South Africa