Tension high at Rhino Oil meeting

Community feedback session in Estcourt

Tempers flared as the temperature soared on a sweltering day in Estcourt on Monday, where a community consultation session was held regarding Rhino Oil and Gas’s application for an exploration right on various KZN and Free State farms.

The meeting, hosted by Rhino and SLR Consulting – the company appointed to handle the scoping, environmental impact assessment and community-engagement process – was intended as an opportunity to provide further information to the affected communities and allow them the chance to ask questions and voice their concerns or objections.

Rhino’s application for an exploration right for petroleum and gas was accepted by PASA (Petroleum Agency of South Africa) in October. This permits the applicant to continue with the process and does not constitute authorisation.

6000 farms

Rhino proposes to conduct full tensor gradiometry gravity surveys (FTG) over a wide area of the KZN Midlands and Drakensberg, and parts of the Free State (more than 6000 farms and 1000 000ha). This will involve fixed-wing aircraft undertaking grid-based flights at slow speeds to gather data. They will fly in patterns, at between 80m and 300m above the ground.

Community members wait to hear about Rhino’s plans for vast tracts of farmland in the Free State, Midlands and Drakesnberg. Pictures Garth Johnstone

In the initial engagements on Tuesday there was some sparring about the protocols for the meeting and insistence on behalf of those attending that all discussion points, comments and questions raised be accurately translated into isiZulu for the benefit of those attending.

The Meander Chronicle counted about 100 visitors, who comprised local farmers, community members, those representing NGOs, tribal areas and traditional leaders.

Insufficient

A number of members in the audience stated that the people there were insufficient to represent the vast areas and populations that fall under the application, and that for the company to have said it had consulted with affected communities, far more advertising and publicity of the process needed to be done. There was concern that those in tribal and deep rural areas, without consistent access to technology, media and newspapers, knew little, if anything, about the process.

Matt Hemming of SLR agreed, but pointed out that it was still very early in the process and the consultation would continue, extending to include those affected and interested parties.

Locality map – areas marked EX1-77 are excluded. Images Supplied

One of the main sticking points in the discussions – and which farmers in particular and Phillip Steyn of Rhino could not agree – was the parameters of this particular meeting. Farmers wanted to discuss fracking and its impact on water resources, while Steyn, the company’s COO, insisted the meeting had nothing to do with fracking. Community members attending vehemently disagreed, saying all discussions were pointless without discussing the negative impacts of fracking, as this was the “end point”.

No hydraulic fracturing

Steyn in his presentations indicated their plan for the next three years: The first two years were for the acquisition and the processing of data; Year three was for data migration and lead identification.

During this period there would be no stimulation, pressure testing or hydraulic fracturing.

Steyn insisted that the current exploration phase would be non-intrusive, but if the company won a right from the department of minerals and energy, the areas would be clearly confined and community consultation intensified.

There was also intense debate over the ownership of Rhino Oil and Gas, with some community members asserting that it was a foreign owned company, with Steyn insisting that Rhino Oil and Gas is a South African company.