Protesters from a variety of creeds and classes united on Saturday outside the gates of parliament in Cape Town to protest the proposed exploration for shale gas in the sensitive Karoo region following the lifting of the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing of deep deposits of shale across the country.
Hydraulic Fracturing, or fracking, is a contentious and debated method of mining for ancient shale gas located deep below the surface of the earth. The technique involves sending a mix of water and a variety of chemicals through deep subterraneous pipes at high pressure in order to fracture shale bedrock and gain access to apparently rich sources of natural gas.
Shell and other fossil fuel based multinational corporations are pushing for the development of this much debated technique on South African soil, with claims of lasting employment opportunities, economic growth, and a ‘cleaner’ source of energy for South Africans.
However, critics argue that the profits from a venture of this kind will quickly fill the coffers of off-shore investors and a small percentage of local B.E.E partners without ever effectively spilling over to the unemployed and disenfranchised rural and urban poor. Furthermore, they claim, fracking will greatly disrupt the sensitive ecosystem of the Karoo, as well as wasting and endangering precious local water resources.
Around the world, the health and environmental risks of fracking are becoming ever more apparent. For example, some of the chemicals used in the process are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, and should they enter groundwater sources, could cause untold damage to the people and environment of the Karoo. Fears of contaminated groundwater are not without justification, with an ongoing case of flaming tap water as a result of methane gas released from fracking currently in court in the United States.
Over 56 civic organisations have signed a memorandum to the minister of energy calling for a banning of fracking exploration in South Africa, on the grounds that the environmentally and socially risky technique will not live up to the promises of the international corporations invested in the process.
The protest on Saturday formed part of the world-wide anti-fracking day and was organised by local organisations Earthlife Africa and the Treasure Karoo Action Group, along with a consortium of other involed parties. However, despite a growing base of support against the contentious plans of Shell and others, there are fears that the government will steamroll the project in an effort to secure large amounts of international investment interest.
This important issue is quickly proving to be one of South Africa’s most actively debated topics, and we will certainly be hearing more from both camps, those for and against, in the near future.
To find out more about the dangers of fracking or to support the anti-fracking movement visit the Treasure the Karoo Action Group here
To support the movement with much needed volunteerism, donations and petitions click here
Image courtesy of Matthew Koehorst