An analysis of the challenges for groundwater governance during shale gas development in South Africa
As a prelude to potential development of South Africa’s shale gas resources, it is critical to develop and implement effective groundwater governance arrangements. Existing policies and plans were analysed to determine whether critical gaps or barriers exist that could potentially lead to impacts on groundwater systems. Ten high-priority governance challenges were identified: (a) defining relevant metrics for baseline groundwater quality and availability; (b) developing guidelines for shale gas resource licensing, exploration, drilling, extraction, production, and completion; (c) defining and enforcing compliance monitoring systems; (d) dealing punitively with non-compliant operators; (e) mitigating and managing risks to prevent impairment of groundwater resources; (f) implementing a goal-based regulatory framework; g) enforcing strict chemical disclosure requirements; (h) coordinating across government departments and regulatory bodies meaningfully and productively; (i) implementing a framework for subsidiarity and support to local water management; and (j) providing an incentive framework that supports strong groundwater management and environmental protection. To overcome these challenges, it is recommended that a decentralised, polycentric, bottom-up approach involving multiple institutions is developed to adaptively manage shale gas development. This transition from the current rigid regulatory structure can foster cooperation and collaboration among key stakeholders. The use of a pro-active groundwater governance structure that can accommodate current, near-term, and long-term shale gas development is important for ensuring that future energy development in South Africa incorporates the influence of other simultaneous stressors such as climate (e.g. drought), landuse changes, population growth, industry, and competing demands for water.
Keywords: groundwater, water governance, shale gas, South Africa