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Say 'No' to Fracking in the Karoo

There is still time to stop Shell

Feature story - March 9, 2011
It is not too late! Shell is currently applying for exploration licences in the Karoo and has said that it will include public concerns in the environmental management report.

>> For an update on the fracking situation, as of September 13th, click here.

You can express your concerns to the oil companies and the SA authorities. You can urge them not to engage in shale gas exploration in the Karoo.

What's the Issue?

Three oil companies, Royal Dutch Shell, Falcon Oil & Gas, and Bundu Oil & Gas are eyeing the exploration of natural gas trapped in the underground shale formations in the Karoo. Shell recently applied for exploration licences for an area of 90,000 square kilometres – roughly three times the size of Lesotho.

Local communities in the Karoo are angry and concerned. Angry because they have no say about what happens to the minerals below their land. And seriously concerned because of the damaging environmental effects of shale gas exploitation.

What is ‘fracking’?

Hydraulic fracturing, also called "fracking", is part of the process to exploit shale gas reserves which are 'locked' in underground rock formations.

To access these reserves, fluid is pumped down a drilled channel (well) into the gas-bearing rock at very high pressures. This causes the rock to fracture, creating fissures and cracks through which the gas can 'escape'. The fracturing liquid generally consists of mainly water, mixed with sand and chemicals. Numerous different chemical agents are used, many of which are flagged as dangerous to humans and the environment (carcinogens, acute toxins).

The fracturing of a single well requires a huge volume of water: around 9,000 - 29,000 m3 (9 -29 million litres). Chemicals make up about 2% of the fracturing liquid, i.e. about 180,000 – 580,000 litres. Only 15 – 80% of the injected fluid is recovered, meaning that the rest remains underground, where it is a source of contamination to water aquifers.

The lifetime of a shale gas extraction well is limited to 5-8 years, as the productivity declines drastically over the first 5 years.

What are the main concerns?

Shale gas extraction poses a threat to ground and surface water. The fracking process brings a significant risk of contamination of these valuable water resources. This pollution can affect drinking water, as well as rivers and wetlands, threatening human health and the environment.

Secondly, fracking uses huge volumes of water. Given that many parts of South Africa already experienced water shortages, the prospect of further stressing water supplies could pose serious problems at a local and regional level. Can we really afford to waste vast amounts of water in a water scarce area such as the Karoo?

What do we want?

Shale gas exploitation is invasive and unsustainable. Exploration of shale gas should be put on hold until the environmental impacts can be resolved. Rather than wasting time and money on another potential dead end, while jeopardising our scarce water resources, we should focus on truly clean, renewable energy solutions.

What can you do?

There is still time to express your concerns about hydraulic fracturing. PASA is the body that has the authority to give the licence for fracking, and the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWEA) is the government department that should oppose the licence on environmental damage grounds.

You can email them directly and make your opinion heard. We have prepared two differenct email texts for you to use as a starting point. Make yourself heard by clicking the link below and sending one to either the DWEA or PASA.