SANBI Staff Work across the SANBI Value Chain to Contribute to the Shale Gas SEA
The Shale Gas Development Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) started in February 2015 and is a 24 month process concluding at the end of March 2017. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), in partnership with SANBI and the Council for GeoSciences (CGS) lead the Shale Gas Assessment on behalf of the Department of Environmental Affairs. A multi-author approach was followed to undertake the assessment. As part of this approach, 17 assessments were done, lead experts in the relevant fields affected by Shale Gas Development. SANBI lead the development of the Biodiversity Chapter and supported the design of the “Scenarios” chapter
The Shale Gas Development SEA was conducted as a science-based assessment to improve the understanding of the risks and opportunities of Shale Gas in the South African context. The purpose of the SEA was to assist government in creating a framework and guiding principles that will inform responsible decision-making. Figure 1 illustrates the footprint of the proposed Shale Gas Exploration area. A total of 17 Strategic Issues are addressed through the SEA using a Multi-Author Team approach; each of the specified Strategic Issues was led by acknowledged expertise in the field e.g. academics, NGO’s, industry and government departments.
For the Shale Gas Development SEA, SANBIs main task was leading the Biodiversity Chapter or Strategic Issue by providing analyses and advice around the potential impacts of Shale Gas on species, ecosystems and ecological processes in the study area.
SANBI staff from the Biosystematics, Biodiversity Research Assessment and Monitoring and the Biodiversity Information and Policy Divisions formed an integral part of the Shale Gas SEA team. Within tight time frames, SANBI was able to mobilise existing species data, in addition to generating new data for wetlands, terrestrial habitat types and species data through a series of bio blitzes (Figure 2). SANBI also relied on its managed network of partners, more than 22 of which contributed species data for taxonomic groups that would be important to include in the Karoo.
Species, ecosystem and ecological process information was then used to generate a map of spatial biodiversity priorities within the Shale Gas development area, this map ranked features in terms of their Ecological and Biodiversity Importance and Sensitivity (EBIS) within the study area. The SEA also has very clear guidance on the risks of Shale Gas Development on each of the EBIS categories and the mitigation measures required for the different activities associated with Shale Gas Development.
Species data collected during a Bioblitz in the Karoo
Figure 3: Map of Ecological and Biodiversity Importance and Sensitivity (EBIS) in the study area. Protected areas (5% of study area) are legally protected. EBIS-1 areas (13% of study area) contain extremely sensitive features and are irreplaceable. EBIS-2 areas (37% of study area) contain highly sensitive features and/or features that are important for achieving targets for representing biodiversity and/or maintaining ecological processes. Protected areas, EBIS-1 areas and EBIS-2 areas collectively meet targets for representation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecological processes in the study area. EBIS-3 areas (44% of the study area) are natural areas that do not contain currently known sensitive or important features. In EBIS-4 areas (1% of study area) there is no remaining natural habitat
The Biodiversity Chapter showcased and highlighted the unique species and ecosystems of the Karoo and the impacts that Shale Gas Development could have on them. Of greatest concern was the fragmentation effect Shale Gas Development infrastructure could have on a largely un-fragmented landscape and the impacts that this may have on the species and ecosystems of the region. The Shale Gas Reports were all peer reviewed and was open for public comments, all of which needed to be addressed as part of the writing up of the chapters for all Strategic Issues. All public participation documents, presentation, and final reports can be found on the Shale Gas Development website:Share this article