The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), together with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Council for Geoscience has been appointed by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to undertake the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for shale gas development in the Karoo.
This was announced by an inter-ministerial task team on the 12th of May 2015, led by the Ministers of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, and Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources, Godfrey Oliphant and supported by the Department of Water and Sanitation and Department of Energy.
The purpose of the shale gas SEA is to provide an evidence base to support decision-making that considers the risks and opportunities around shale gas development in South Africa, from an environmentally sustainable perspective. The study area will include regions of the Karoo Basin which currently have exploration rights applications pending in the Northern, Eastern and Western Cape Provinces.
SANBI will provide inputs on the terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity of the study area, and will identify the importance and sensitivities of the various species and ecosystems. There are significant data gaps in the study area and SANBI will be undertaking bioblitzes (rapid biodiversity assessments) as well as mobilising existing biodiversity data in order to improve our overall understanding of biodiversity within the Karoo.
All of this biodiversity information will contribute to the overall analyses on environmental sensitivities, studies on acceptable levels of change under different possible scenarios, and the policy recommendation outputs of the SEA. It will also inform the other themes which are related to biodiversity, e.g. sense of place and visual assessment.
The SEA for shale gas development will be 24 months in duration and be undertaken by a ‘science council consortium’ consisting of the CSIR, SANBI and the Council for Geosciences.
The Ministers reiterated their commitment to our constitutional mandate as well as our government policy on "Sustainable Development", which is to secure an environment that is not harmful to the health and well-being of our people, while also ensuring that our South African socio-economic growth is not hampered.