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We Say No to Fracking – Voices from the Karoo

Title We Say No to   Fracking – Voices from the Karoo
Director(s) Liane Greeff
Date released (year) 2012
Production company EcoDoc Africa
Length 10.36mins
Location South Africa
Keywords/tags Education, environmentalism, fracking,   protest
Link to film http://youtu.be/JZ6cOlTrLN4
Synopsis Saturday 28 July 2012 saw a   gathering of communities, environmentalists, scientists, children, bikers   etc. in Nieu-Bethesda to raise awareness that the people of South Africa are   saying NO to fracking. The Rally was organised locally by Mikey Wentworth   with support from Climate Justice Campaign and Earthlife Africa Cape Town.

This video was filmed and edited by Liane Greeff of EcoDoc Africa, and   produced for EJOLT-CCS. EJOLT is a large collaborative project bringing   science and society together to catalogue ecological distribution conflicts   and to work towards confronting environmental injustice. EcoDoc Africa is   taking the camera to the conflicts and building and sharing a video archive   of people’s protests against ecocide on earth.

Source: http://youtu.be/JZ6cOlTrLN4

Reviews/discussion What is Fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing is the propagation of fractures in a rock layer by a pressurized fluid. Some hydraulic fractures form naturally—certain veins or dikes are examples—and can create conduits along which gas and petroleum from source rocks may migrate to reservoir rocks. Induced hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracturing, commonly known as fracing, fraccing, or fracking, is a technique used to release petroleum, natural gas (including shale gas, tight gas, and coal seam gas), or other substances for extraction.[1] This type of fracturing creates fractures from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_fracturing

A Pro-fracking argument:

Fracking it in South Africa: an argument for shale gas production in the Karoo – By John Schellhase, November 15, 2012

South Africa is in the midst of a heated energy debate. Africa’s wealthiest nation sits on top of one of the world’s largest shale gas reserves. While the government has lifted its moratorium on shale gas exploration, the controversial hydraulic fracturing technique, ‘fracking’, is still restricted as the country weighs environmental risks against opportunities for economic development. Given the clear economic opportunities and the chance to diversify away from coal, government officials should continue their deliberate, but steady progress toward completely removing the ban on fracking in South Africa.

In a study of 32 countries, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that South Africa has the 5th largest reserves of potentially recoverable shale gas. At 485 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the shale reserves in South Africa surpass those of Australia, Brazil, Canada, and Poland, where Prime Minister Donald Tusk has called natural gas his country’s “great chance,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Fracking is a controversial technique. In order to extract gas from shale formations, energy companies drill thousands of meters below ground, then drill horizontally into a shale formation. The rig operators pump water and a mixture of chemicals into the shale at high pressures, fracturing rock formations and allowing gas to flow. Fracking opponents worry that the chemicals involved in the process will contaminate water supplies, threatening both human communities and natural ecosystems. Proponents, such as Ben Grumbles, president of the non-for-profit Clean Water America Alliance, disagree. Grumbles has written, “Hydraulic fracturing can be ‘safe’ when done in the right place, on the right scale, with the right safeguards.”

Royal Dutch Shell, Falcon Oil, Sunset Energy, Sasol Oil, and Bundu Oil and Gas are all eager to explore South Africa’s shale basin in the semi-arid Karoo region, which stretches between Capetown and Johannesburg. This area has the lowest population density in the country. But with over 6,000 plant species, 40 percent of which are unique to the area, the Karoo is rich in biodiversity. In February 2011, Susan Shabangu, the Minister of Mineral Resources, instituted a nation-wide ban on shale gas exploration, citing environmental concerns.

Pressure from both sides of the issue has only grown louder since Shabangu’s announcement. In March of this year, Treasure the Karoo Action Group, an organization fighting shale exploration, declared, “In the event that Minister Shabangu issues exploration licenses under the current status quo, we will look to the courts for protection.” In May, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters, according to local media reports, called the gas beneath the Karoo a “blessing that God gives us,” adding, “and we need to exploit it for the benefit of the people.”

Since September, the government has been sending mixed messages. At first, Collins Chabane, a minister in the President’s office, announced that the moratorium was entirely lifted, but less than two weeks later, Shabangu corrected the record, explaining that the moratorium has only been lifted for “normal exploration” and that fracking remains off-limits. In a speech to parliament, she said, “Hydraulic fracturing – when and if it eventually happens – will be authorized under the strict supervision of the monitoring committee.” President Jacob Zuma has stayed out of the fray. When contacted for comment on this piece, for example, his office redirected the query to the Ministry of Mining.

Currently, coal dominates South Africa’s energy landscape, accounting for over 90 percent of electricity production. With proved reserves of 300 billion tons, coal provides the cheap energy South Africa needs to sustain its rapid economic rise. Those reserves can keep the country powered for the next century, but concerns about climate change are driving policymakers to seek alternatives. In this context, natural gas, which cuts greenhouse gas emissions in half compared to coal, has become increasingly attractive.

Ichumile Gqada, a researcher at the respected South Africa Institute of International Affairs, believes shale gas exploration in the Karoo should go forward. In an email, she wrote, “Ignoring the massive potential of the resource that might be in place in the Karoo by ‘leaving the resource in the ground,’ as some have suggested, would be unjustifiable in my eyes.”

The upside potential of exploration is powerfully attractive. A report released in September by the Department of Mineral Resources described the economic potential of fracking in the Karoo. In a “moderately optimistic” case, the authors estimate that if 30 trillion cubic feet, out of the estimated 485 trillion cubic feet, could be produced the financial windfall would be 1 trillion rand; in other words, a mere 6 percent of potential reserve is worth US $115 billion. The government report also cites PetroSA’s Mossel Bay project, where the production of just 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas led to the creation of over 1,500 jobs.

As incomes in South Africa continue to rise and energy demands increase, the economic logic of shale gas extraction may become irresistible. Local environmental groups such as Treasure the Karoo and international NGOs such as Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund should transform their message from stopping fracking at any cost to ensuring the highest health and environmental standards possible. Instead of protesting from the periphery, they should work to embed their members on advisory boards and oversight panels. By working with extractive industries instead of against them, civil society groups will have far more influence in shaping the future of fracking in South Africa.

For its part, the government must continue to ensure that environmental concerns guide future exploration. Working with industry and civil society, ministers must have clear, forceful regulations in place to guarantee the strictest consequences if energy companies cause environmental harm. It is also time that President Zuma makes an extended public statement on the issue.

Shale gas exploration has the potential to drive the next wave of economic growth in South Africa, reducing poverty and creating tens of thousands of jobs over the next decade. While the government must maintain the highest environmental standards for companies wishing to extract shale gas in the Karoo, it has an economic obligation to steadily open shale gas to further development, including fracking. It is time for South Africa’s government to lead the country to a more secure energy future.

John Schellhase is a graduate student at the Center for Global Affairs, New York University.

Source: http://africanarguments.org/2012/11/15/fracking-it-in-south-africa-an-argument-for-shale-gas-production-in-the-karoo-by-john-schellhase/

 

Anti-fracking argument:

Fracking cancer risk, September 20 2012
By Tony Carnie – environment reporter

KwaZulu-Natal – SA’s top water research body has warned the government to think carefully about the serious risk of water pollution from cancer-causing chemicals and radioactive compounds from future underground “fracking” operations across huge swathes of the country.

A new report by the state-funded Water Research Commission says shale gas rock-fracturing (fracking) will not only happen in remote sections of the Karoo. In fact, the government had already issued fracking exploration permits in six of the nine provinces, including a massive chunk of southern KwaZulu-Natal stretching almost as far north as Pietermaritzburg.

The scientists note that future fracking, at depths 4km below the earth’s surface, could be over a much wider area of the country – including most of the high-lying areas south of latitude 29°C in KZN (a line which starts at Mtunzini in the east and stretches inland past Estcourt towards Bloemfontein and Kimberley).

The report also identifies a number of risks to human health, water and the natural environment from fracking wells. These risks included:

– Widespread pollution of groundwater, rivers and lakes with dozens of cancer-causing fracking compounds and other “highly toxic” pollutants such as benzene, hydrochloric acid and isopropanol.

– Accidental release of underground uranium and other radioactive elements into the water and soil.

– Underground mini-earthquakes, cave-ins and land subsidence.

– Privatisation of parks and other state land where the public is excluded from fracking land and gas fields for safety reasons.

– Above-ground air pollution from methane and other shale gas wells.

– Lower property values.

However, water pollution is the main emphasis of the 84-page Water Research Commission report by Gideon Steyl (University of the Free State chemistry department), Gerrit van Tonder (University of the Free State Institute for Groundwater Studies) and Luc Chevallier (Council for Geoscience).

The scientists note that gas-drilling companies in the US have been trying to hide the toxic nature of many fracking chemicals.

However, the commission cites a report from the US House of Representatives last year which identified at least 29 commonly used fracking chemicals that were known or probable cancer-causing agents, or were regulated as hazardous to drinking water and air.

These chemicals are mixed with water and pumped underground at very high pressure to fracture and crack the rock formations to release buried pockets of methane and other gas formed millions of years ago from rotting mounds of mud, vegetation, algae and other organic matter.

Some chemicals included benzene (a known cancer-causing chemical) along with a variety of acids and petroleum products.

A study by the University of Buffalo in the US last year also raised concern about the possible release of underground uranium and other radioactive compounds when rocks are cracked up with hydrochloric acid.

Another US study published last year showed that the methane gas level in underground drinking water was generally 17 times higher in fracking areas compared with well water where no fracking took place.

However, Steyl and his colleagues voiced dismay over the difficulty in tracking down truly unbiased international studies on the impacts of fracking, since most were done by industry and private interests.

Even official US government reports claiming no damage to public health or the environment stood in contradiction to numerous adverse reports by US citizens and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The commission researchers note that a single fracking event in a single well used the same amount of water needed to irrigate eight to 10ha of maize during a growing season.

Every time a well was fracked, large volumes of chemicals were added to the water-pressure mixture. Although chemicals only made up between 0.5 and 2 percent of the mixture, the volume of hazardous chemicals in a single fracking event could total between 34 000 and 136 000 litres.

Even if just 1 percent of dangerous fracking chemicals leaked out of the concrete well drillings during a single fracking, Steyl estimated that 490 litres of hazardous chemicals could contaminate underground water. This could pose “serious hazards” to the environment and to underground water drunk by people and livestock.

Despite these concerns, the scientists appear to recognise that fracking is a fait accompli and they have listed a set of 10 recommendations to limit harm. They include compulsory “full disclosure” of every chemical used. Any fracking well should be at least 10km away from residential areas to reduce chemical exposure risks.

All drilling records should be freely available to the public, and a thorough baseline study should be done to measure pre-fracking quality of water, soil and air by an “unbiased” body such as a university.

Legal action should also be taken against any drilling company after a first offence. They should be forced to clean up damage, and be banned from future fracking in SA. However, even in the US, there were fewer than 10 inspectors to monitor more than 3 500 fracking wells in Pennsylvania. – The Mercury

Source: http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/kwazulu-natal/fracking-cancer-risk-1.1387127

 

Fracking facts

An introduction to fracking in South Africa
The moratorium on fracking in South Africa, endorsed by Cabinet in April 2011 and extended by six more months in August 2011, has been lifted on the 7th of September 2012, following the recommendations of the task team report. The report is available here: www.dmr.gov.za

The report also suggested that exploration proceed without allowing for horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing, while laws are amended and a monitoring committee is established. Due to the fatal flaws in the applicants’ EMP’s and other considerations, TKAG will be opposing any licences that may be granted in the near future by legal means.

High Volume, Slickwater, Horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”/”fraccing”, is the controversial technology used for the extraction of unconventional gas, such as shale gas. The technique involves a vertical well that is drilled to a depth of between 2000 m and 6000 m, after which the drilling bore turns to drill horizontally for a few thousand meters. A mixture of 99%-99.5% water and sand, along with 0.5% – 1% chemicals are pumped under high pressure into the well. This process fractures the shale rock layer, releasing the gas trapped between rock particles.

Source: http://www.treasurethekaroo.co.za/fracking-facts

 

Links to other resources www.ejolt.org

www.ecodocafrica.co.za

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