20 March 2011

Fracking: The new swear word

Shell has carried a full page advert in this week’s Weekend Post on their “Commitments to the Karoo,” in relation to their plans to exploit the natural gas resources in the area. The statement has been very carefully crafted and the way I read it, Shell will want us to believe that the exploitation of natural gas in the Karoo is a noble venture that will have no negative environmental impact.


As far as I am concerned this is a load of bollocks. There is a lot that is not being said in the statement and most of the commitments are either conditional or open to interpretation and provide a useful back door, from what the intent seems to reflect at first glance.

For the unenlightened, “fracking” is short for hydraulic fracturing. It is a new way of extracting gas from the shale deposits that lie beneath the surface of the Karoo.

“Surely the extraction of this gas will have a positive spinoff for the country,” you may ask.

For those making the money the answer is probably, “yes.” but it is debateable whether it will be good for the country, especially the Karoo. It is not the extraction of the gas that is the problem, but the way they go about extracting the gas that is the problem and its long term effects on the environment.

Natural gas is trapped in some layers of the shale, but to extract it is not just about drilling a hole and hoping that it will rise to the surface. It is a lot more complex than that. In the past it was considered to be too expensive to exploit this gas commercially, but advances in horizontal drilling techniques and the process of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” have now made it viable and led to a global rush to exploit the shale gas reserves.

Unfortunately the Karoo is high on the agenda for the exploitation of this gas and the Government has awarded licences to five companies (Royal Dutch Shell, Falcon Oil & Gas, Anglo American, Bundu Gas and Oil and a joint venture between Sasol, Statoil of Norway and Chesapeake Energy of the USA) to assess the potential reserves. If the reserves are substantial it is intended that this will lead to their exploitation, but first they have to go through the motions of environmental impact assessments, to this legally.

Fracking involves injecting pressurised water mixed with sand and a cocktail of dodgy chemicals into boreholes to crack open the shale and release the gas to escape to the surface. Anything up to 20 million litres of water and 300 tonnes of chemicals could be pumped into a single well for the fracking process.

That is a lot of water, in an area where water is a scarce commodity. So where is it going to come from? This is ignored by the statement. It has been suggested by some wag that sea water can be shipped in. The last thing the Karoo needs is the contamination of our groundwater by sea water and a cocktail of chemicals that are used during fracking.

The protagonists will claim that the chemicals are safe, but from what I have read many of these are known to be carcinogenic. Once the damage is done there is no turning back the clock, you cannot get down there to clean up the mess, it is there forever. Then there is the problem of some of the contaminated water getting back to the surface, which in turn will pose some serious disposal problems aside from the threat it will have to livestock and wildlife.”

Water is the life blood of the Karoo. If the underground water is polluted that will be the end of farming out there.

From what I have read the experience of fracking in the USA, Canada and Austratia has not been a very positive one. Tests in areas where fracking is taking place have shown high levels of ethane and methane in the water and many people are finding that they can ignite the gas from water coming from the taps.

The one statement that shell did get right is:

"The Karoo is a special place for South Africans. We must preserve it for our future and our children’s future.”

Let's keep it that way and not frack up the Karoo.

3 comments:

Diane said...

Amen and good luck!! They are messing around in Colorado over here, close to where we used to live! :(

ABranch said...

Those fraking frakers are trying to get there hands on the book cliffs here in Utah too. *shakes head*

Firefly said...

Shell must not be allowed to drill in the Karoo. The should just take their frakking stuff and frek off