Shell to be held accountable in The Netherlands for its plans to frack in South Africa

Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Thursday 14 August 2014 – Of concern are the recent amendments regarding fracking in the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) no.28 of 2002 passed by parliament – yet to be signed by the President – as the Department of Environmental Affairs’ (DEA) authority will largely be handed over to the Department of Minerals Resources (DMR), giving the less environmentally-skilled authority jurisdiction over the implementation of environmental regulations in fracking. With Royal Dutch Shell being the main fracking proponent, Dutch environmental justice activists from Milieudefensie [1] are visiting South Africa to hold Shell accountable in The Netherlands at the company’s AGM, public pressure and if necessary take legal action against the company for their operations in South Africa.  

A report commissioned by local NGOs groundWork [2] and the Southern African Land Committee (SCLC) [3], together with Milieudefensie, answers questions related to how fracking will change the Karoo socially, economically and environmentally, regulation of industry and government’s role, and what the present situation is in South Africa and the proposed way forward [4].

On Monday, 18 August 2014, media are invited to attend the following events:

With the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (PASA) previously being established to regulate the issuing of different kinds of licenses to mining and fracking but increasingly promoting the industry, parliament has seen it fit to give the regulatory function to the regional offices of the DMR, a problematic situation because it dilutes the body of expertise; stronger with a central regulator.

The proposed amendments mean the DMR will have a period of 18 months in which it will remain the competent authority, and then it needs to negotiate a phasing in of the DEA as competent authority. Only then will the situation for mining, oil and gas become like other industries. Until decision is taken by the president, for now, the fracking industry does not have to answer in any capacity to the DEA in terms of any environmental assessments.

In his State of the Nation Address in June, the President stated that fracking "is recognised as a game changer for our economy". Amongst other issues, the exact amount of shale gas underground, however, is unknown by both the government and proponent companies.

The report finds fracking problematic for the following reasons:

The main concerns of the above three organisations is that the DMR hand over primary responsibility for environmental oversight of the fracking industry to the DEA, and that there should be independent public monitoring of any steps taken to initiate fracking.


[1] Milieudefensie has 80 local member groups, with the organisation’s vision being one of ensuring an environment that is clean and healthy for people to live in. One of their campaigns is actively supporting activists in Nigeria resisting Shell, in particular taking the company to court in The Netherlands for destruction of people’s environments.  Milieudefensie is the Netherlands member of Friends of the Earth International - see: https://milieudefensie.nl/, also: https://www.foeeurope.org/netherlands
[2] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa, and increasingly Southern Africa, on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Coal, Climate and Energy Justice, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Friends of the Earth International.
[3] The Southern Cape Land Committee works with excluded rural women, men and youth in the Southern Cape and western regions of the Eastern Cape towards agrarian transformation. SCLC’s vision is for a vibrant, sustainable and vibrant countryside where there is no poverty, people are living lives of dignity, family values and community culture are upheld, the environment is protected and there is a more equitable access to and control over natural resources and opportunities http://sclc.co.za/
[4] You can download the full report here.
[5] Unearthed, an independent South African feature documentary, investigates fracking in the
United States – the technology’s place of origin – in order to understand what this new method of gas extraction could mean for the semi-arid Karoo and other countries who are considering its implementation http://www.un-earthed.com/

groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa)
Southern Cape Land Committee
Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth The Netherlands)


Megan Lewis
Media, Information and Publications Officer
Mobile: 083 450 5541
Email: megan@groundwork.org.za

(Interviews with the Dutch activists can be organised with Megan)

Bobby Peek
Mobile: 082 464 1383
Email: bobby@groundwork.org.za

Southern Cape Land Committee:
Angela Conway
Mobile: 082 295 7760
Email: angela_conway@telkomsa.net

Phumelelo Booysen
Programme Manager
Mobile: 078 559 7226
Email: phumi_booysen@telkomsa.net

The term “fracking” is shorthand for “hydraulic fracturing” and usually refers to the technique used for extracting shale gas from deep under the earth’s surface. The technique involves high-pressure drilling, firstly vertically, for up to 4km underground. The drill then travels horizontally for around 1km into the rock. Shale gas is a hydrocarbon, trapped in sedimentary rock up to 4 km underground. Shale gas is often referred to as being an unconventional gas or a tight gas. About a fifth of South Africa’s land surface has been set aside for the purpose of shale gas. Most of the shale gas is said to be found in the Karoo basin, particularly in the Great Karoo, but also in the provinces of the Free State and KwaZulu Natal, and the Kalahari Desert.