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Jan Glazewski

The distinct and imminent possibility of the Department of Mineral Resources granting exploration rights, to undertake shale gas extraction in the arid Karoo region of South Africa raises the question whether this will be commensurate with South Africa’s long-term sustainability goals. Sustainable development has been articulated in the environmental right contained in the Bill of Rights chapter of Constitution which espouses “…ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development”. Speculation about estimated gas reserves has resulted in talk of shale gas being a potential economic “game changer” for the country. However the proposal raises a number of varied and complex questions. These include the issue of South Africa’s optimal energy mix needs given its historic dependence and abundance of cheap coal reserves; the question of cooperative government, also provided for in the Constitution (chapter 3) in that a number of other government national departments need to be involved in the decision-making process including the Department of Water Affairs (the Karoo being an arid area in a water scarce country), Department of Environmental Affairs, and the Department of Science and Technology as well as other government agencies. A third issue centers on questions around regulatory governance, ongoing monitoring and ensuring compliance given lack of capacity and technical skills in the country. Against this backdrop the chapter argues that South Africa has a golden opportunity to “look before it leaps”; more specifically it should adopt the principle of precaution which has been recognized international environmental law as well as in national jurisdictions including South Africa before embarking on the shale gas engterprise.