South African’s have yet to become better informed about it....”fracking”. It burst onto the scene this year when the South African government halted plans for drilling for gas in the Karoo by oil company Shell. A moratorium was imposed on fracking allowing the government to better understand the environmental consequences it will have. In the meantime prospecting taking place in other parts of the country, including the Drakensberg has had less media coverage. Should we be surprised?
"Barkly East conservationist Kate Nelson, who runs a local guest farm and adventure company, said that while many people knew of the active anti-fracking campaign being run in respect of shale gas prospecting applications there, few were aware that large parts of the Free State, Eastern Cape Highlands and KwaZulu-Natal were under a similar threat. Prospecting permits had been granted to Anglo Coal and to a three-company consortium consisting of Sasol and foreign energy giants Statoil and Chesapeake Energy, covering an 88 000km2 tract of land right around Lesotho – including the central and southern Drakensberg regions of KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Free State and the Eastern Cape Highlands.
"Mthozami Xiphu, chief executive of Petroleum Agency SA, confirmed that Sasol, Statoil and Chesapeake were granted a one year technical co-operation permit in November in KZN, and were involved in a desktop exploration study which did not involve any drilling at this stage. Sasol spokeswoman Nothemba Noruwana said the oil giant hoped to complete its exploration study by the end of the year — but refused to say how it would extract the gas. Asked whether the company would frack the area,Noruwana said: 'It is early days and I don’t want to speculate on what we will or will not do.' However, mining experts say shale-gas mining is generally only possible using intensive methods such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking). To crack the shale and extract the gas, large volumes of water, sand and chemicals are injected into the ground under pressure." Now KZN faces threat of fracking
According to Wikipedia, "hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking, fracing or hydrofracking, is the process of initiating and subsequently propagating a fracture in a rock layer, by means of a pressurized fluid, in order to release petroleum, natural gas, coal seam gas, or other substances for extraction. The fracturing, known colloquially as a frack job (or frac job), is done from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations. The energy from the injection of a highly pressurized fluid, such as water, creates new channels in the rock which can increase the extraction rates and ultimate recovery of fossil fuels."
It seems comprehensive studies on the effects of fracking on the environment and on human health are lacking. The negative impacts, based on reports in the USA, are said to be:
1. Water pollution – both the contamination of the ground water, and the large quantities of chemically contaminated water used in the process, which are returned to the surface. This is particularly concerning considering the value of water in a dry country such as South Africa, and considering that the Drakensberg is a significant source for the country.
2. Ill health, due to the chemicals, of those near the sites.
3. Soil pollution and erosion
4. Domestic animals and pets near the sites have also been known to suffer ill health, reproductive problems etc
5. Air pollution – from escaping methane in the layers and heavy traffic of the trucks needed in the operation.
6. Water wastage, as significant quantities are needed in the process. Again, particularly concerning in a country where water is scarce.
7. Earthquakes as a result of the geological layers becoming unstable.
Adapted from Drakensberg also under threat of fracking
Furthermore, "innovations in machinery and uses of various chemicals have also assisted in the liberation of viable quantities of gas from the rock. Shale gas extraction companies have been reluctant to disclose the chemicals used and have constantly downplayed any associated danger. Perhaps the most comprehensive list of these chemicals has been compiled by The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX). TEDX has compiled a list of nearly 1000 chemicals, together with referenced studies on their impacts. Many of these chemicals are carcinogenic (cancer causing), hormone disruptors, mutagens (gene disruptors) or simply toxic to various organs or to the ecology. Others are secret or proprietary mixtures whose components are not disclosed or chemicals whose impacts have not been investigated or published at all. Shell has pledged to use ‘green chemistry’ and to provide full disclosure of all chemicals it proposes to use. In fact, Shell has launched a concerted public relations offensive to support its application to frack the Karoo. However, even ostensibly respectable corporations like Shell have poor historical track records and their role of exploitation and environmental catastrophe in Nigeria is particularly damning."
And of course, "South Africa has extensive problems with inadequate regulatory oversight, especially regarding extractive industries. Our record of managing acid mine drainage, both from old gold mines and more modern coalmines has been tardy and inadequate. Conflicts between Ministries like Minerals and Energy and Environment regarding environmental planning and oversight of extractive industries remain largely unresolved. Budgetary and personnel constraints exacerbate these concerns. While there is extensive and increasingly vocal public concern about the risks of fracking in the Karoo, the public levels of expertise, resourcing and mandates to manage these risks remain open to question." Fracking up the Karoo
To make matters worse, “while only 23% of metro adults in South Africa are in favour of Shell (oil company) being allowed to conduct fracking in the Karoo, only 31% are against it. The other 46% appeared not to know what fracking was or did not have an opinion, as they gave a "don’t know" response. The issue of fracking is not well known with around half of people having no opinion on the subject." Fracking not understood, supported in SA
Vertical Endeavour is committed to help spread a proper awareness of fracking and what it’s effects will be, particularly as it concerns the Maloti-Drakensberg region. The developments will have to be monitored. We encourage everyone to better educate themselves about it, and where necessary to become involved in a public movement to protect our natural heritage, particularly the Drakensberg mountains. Stay tuned.