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Centre for Environmental Rights – Advancing Environmental Rights in South Africa

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Environmental justice by advocating for better environmental laws and improved implementation of laws.

MEJCON-SA & MACUA’s Legal Challenge to Proposed Gas Production Expansion

Tetra4 (Pty) Ltd (Tetra4) holds the only Gas Production Right issued in South Africa for onshore gas production. The production right was granted in 2012 over an area spanning approximately 187 000 hectares of the Free State near the town of Virginia. Tetra4 is a wholly owned subsidiary of Renergen Ltd. As at December 2023, Renergen is listed on the JSE and on the Australian Stock Exchange, and is looking to list on the Nasdaq bourse in the USA.

Tetra4 applied for and was issued environmental approvals for an initial project under its Production Right that it terms, Cluster 1. In 2017, it sought to drill additional wells, and construct pipelines, booster and compressor stations, a Helium and LNG Facility and associated infrastructure. In 2017 the DMRE issued an Environmental Authorisation to Tetra4 for that purpose. Tetra4 has drilled all of the wells that were authorised and has therefore completed its Cluster 1 project. It is in the process of applying for the approvals needed for an enormous expansion of its production operations. It terms the expansion, Cluster 2.

The Cluster 2 application area covers a total of ~27 500 hectares. This proposed expansion to the existing production activities will, according to Tetra4’s records, involve up to 300 new production wells, ~480km of gas transmission pipelines and associated infrastructure, 3 compressor stations and an additional new combined Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) and Liquid Helium (LHe) plant (LNG/LHe Plant) and associated infrastructure.

Cluster 2 Integrated Water and Waste Management Plan

In March 2023, Tetra4 commenced the process of applying for a Water Use Licence (WUL) for the propose Custer 2 expansion. It prepared a draft Integrated Water and Waste Management Plan pursuant to that application. On behalf of its clients, Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa (MEJCON-SA) and Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA), the Centre for Environmental Rights submitted an objection to Tetra4’s Integrated Water and Waste Management Plan.

MEJCON-SA and MACUA are concerned about the proposed project’s risks to an important aquifer by way of groundwater contamination with, inter alia, radioactive material such as radium and uranium. They point out that Tetra4’s geohydrological study did not measure radium or levels of radioactivity, nor did it adequately measure for uranium. The human health risk from potential groundwater contamination was thus also not assessed.

MEJCON-SA and MACUA assert that the geohydrological assessment did not take into account the 15 000 historical wells that exist in the proposed expansion area, failed to provide a detailed strategy to address leaching and spilling of hazardous waste to surface and groundwater, did not properly account for its water use (Tetra4 will be using municipal water) and the impact this would have on residents that are reliant on water from the municipality, and did not consider the impacts of climate change including on South Africa’s scarce water resources.Tetra4’s appointed Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP) provided a tabled response to MEJCON-SA and MACUA’s objections. That response is available here: EAP Response to Objection.

Cluster 2 Environmental Authorisation appeal

In July 2023, the DMRE granted an integrated environmental authorisation to Tetra4 for its Cluster 2 expansion (Cluster 2 EA). On behalf of its clients, MEJCON-SA and MACUA, challenging the EA, CER submitted an appeal in terms of Section 43 of NEMA:

Accompanying the appeal are the expert reports of Dr. Steve Campbell and Dr. Eloise Marais, which identify the flaws inherent in Tetra4’s geohydrology report and climate change impact assessment, respectively.

The grounds of appeal are based on;

  1. the shortcomings in the groundwater impact analysis,
  2. the failure to consider climate change,
  3.  the failure to conduct adequate public participation,
  4. the fact that the project is not needed nor desirable,
  5.  the impact of the proposed project on the agricultural and tourism sectors including food production, employment and livelihoods was not assessed; and
  6. the fact that it is irrational and dangerous to authorise projects with egregious impacts when the state lacks the resources and capacity to adequately ensure compliance with the conditions of the EA and environmental laws.

Tetra4 filed its Responding Statement late on 14 September 2023. It submitted acondonation request along with the Responding Statement. As Tetra4 was required to show exceptional circumstances that justified the late filing, and these do not exist, MEJCON-SA and MACUA opposed Tetra4’s condonation request here. The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment’s decision on the condonation request and on MEJCON-SA and MACUA’s Appeal of the EA is awaited.

Pending the Minister’s decision on the Appeal, Tetra4’s Environmental Authorisation is suspended and no activities are permitted.