In January the news about Shell's plans to prospect for natural gas in the Greater Karoo, using a process called fracking, started making its way into the mainstream media. Since then the growing outrage amongst farmers and concerned citizens is putting major pressure on the decision makers in government, Shell’s South African CEO, and Golders and Associates, their environmental agency.
“Pressure" seems too polite a word for the anger and incredulity being directed at the representatives of Shell, because what is at stake is the ecology and water feeding over 90 000 square kilometers of ground spanning five provinces. This is not just an issue for the farmers whose land will be affected, nor for Sutherland and the international astronomical value of the giant telescope; it is everyone’s issue and the civil rejection of such a proposal is the only hope we have because there are instinctual fears that the proposal is in fact already a done deal and the public meetings are just being held for ‘show’.
The quest for natural energy is one thing, but at what cost? Are we prepared to ‘pay’ for another series of man-made disasters on this quest? BP’s legacy of the biggest oil spill in history was caused in essence because of cost cutting practises that compromised the safety of the engineering integrity of the structure. This left no room for any accidents and resulted in total devastation of a coastline and the economy of the people who depend on it.
Fracking won’t cause an oil spill, but there are no guarantees, nor reassuring evidence, that it will not pollute the ground water of the areas around the natural gas well. Fracking has a heinous reputation in certain parts of the USA where there are already hundreds of wells in action. In fact, it has been the cause of mass environmental outrage and been banned in the cities of Buffalo, New York and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the USA after citizens petitioned to have it outlawed.
The documentary Gasland
dishes up some unpalatable facts as to what can happen to the water supply after the wells have been dug and the gas extracted. Fracking involves pumping thousands of litres of fresh water, mixed with chemicals and sand into boreholes of approximately 3 km deep – this then ‘fracks’ the earth’s layers to release the ‘natural gas’, while creating grids of destruction across the ground being fracked. Underground aquifers are permanently polluted and water becomes undrinkable; the chemicals used have harmful effects on people and livestock.
The pristine nature of the greater Karoo, also home to the Sutherland Observatory, is a much loved part of this extraordinary country. The love of this magnificent land is what unites all South Africans. We should support our country’s life force, the farmers, by rejecting a mining practice that can lead to the contamination of the aquifers in this already deeply water-stressed region. Johann Rupert has joined forces with Princess Irene of the Netherlands and hired a legal team to oppose the fracking plans as they are major land owners in the area and have the legal resources available to request a full enquiry into the decision maker’s processes and policy. We need to ask more questions before any fracking can begin.
A comprehensive environmental impact assessment document needs to be tabled before anyone agrees to these plans and yet it appears the process is being fast-tracked and the company responsible for the impact assessment is not forthcoming with answers to the farmers most pressing concerns: What promise is there of compensation should the groundwater be irreversibly polluted? Where are the millions of litres of water going to come from to facilitate the fracking? What chemicals are going to be used during the drilling? How many boreholes are going to be sunk?
Public meetings have been held in Graaff Reinet, Somerset East, Hofmeyer and Port Elizabeth and there is one set for the 25th March at the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town. Citizens and concerned landowners have until the end of March to hear a response to their rejection of the plans and the more of us who attend the meeting the better for a show of unity against this tender.
This may be the first case in South Africa where there could be a constitutional hearing relating to the government’s duty to protect the water and environment of South Africa – over the ideals of big business.
South Africa has never faced such a massive global prospecting bid and it will see the Departments of Mineral and Energy Affairs at loggerheads with the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs.
South Africa’s constitution calls on the government to be a custodian of the environmental assets and water assets and to deliver a report that is in favour of fracking will entail a stretch of the imagination that can leap over reams of rejections and ignore proof of how it can destroy the environment.
The farmers are not opposed to the search for natural gas – or its extraction – as long as the process does not ruin the environment or their livelihood and they are given assurances that - should a disaster occur - they will be compensated. Is it a matter of ‘should’ or more realistically a matter of ‘when’ a disaster could happen and what compensation can afford even a minimal amount of chemical pollution in the water table? Can we even consider being able to pay it when without unpolluted water very little can happen in manufacture, agriculture or life itself?
Shell is being called to action to transparently address the voices of protest because the voice of civil society is going to get louder. How this world-recognised brand manages this process will shine a spotlight on them and their sustainable practices. Their payoff line “Find out how we’re helping to meet the energy challenges of the future” should include a caveat “but only what we are prepared to tell you”.
The quest for ‘natural’ energy is one thing but if you are helping to meet the energy challenges of a country by destroying the last vestiges of underground water – what is the true cost of that and ultimately what is the point?
In the latest King III report – South Africa’s leading sustainability report – is the statement “Responsible leaders do not compromise the natural environment and the livelihood of future generations.” This is the true call to action for our government and one Shell has an opportunity to make a stand for.
Take a stand against these plans to frack the Karoo
Golder Associates are hosting a public participation process in Cape Town this Friday 25 March from 17:00 – 20:00 at the Sports Science Institute in Newlands. To register as an interested and affected party email Golder Associates email@example.com
Arrive early as there are going to be many people present and bring your placards along; we suggest the following slogan “Frack you Shell – Keep your hands off our Karoo”
Join the civic action petition group on Facebook
- the website goes live on Friday, 25 March 2011
The brilliant "Frack you Shell" t-shirts will be available to buy online at www.frackingfacts.co.za
, when the website goes live during the afternoon of 25 March.
Alternatively, SMS to orders to 082 0966 597
The correct website to learn more about fracking and to buy the t-shirts is www.stopfracking.co.za
. We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience.
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