The Fracking Furore

21 Jan 2015

As humanity continues to turn a blind eye to the havoc we are wreaking on planet Earth in our quest for ‘bigger, better and easier’ at any cost, the scale of devastation grows exponentially.

Our addiction to energy has led to the ‘cheaper’ sources having been over-exploited and has ushered in a brave new world of extracting the fuel necessary to power the energy monster.

Natural GasNatural gas, one of the cornerstones of our modern energy cocktail, has for years been considered a transition fuel – an interim source to be used while renewable energy sources were being developed.

However, renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geo-thermal remain a long way off from replacing non-renewable sources such as oil, coal and natural gas. The major energy companies have, over the years, depleted most of the shallower natural gas deposits and have now turned their attention to the much deeper reserves.

To access these deep reserves locked in shale bands kilometres beneath the earth’ surface wells are sunk into which fluid is pumped at extremely high pressures, fracturing the rock and hence releasing the gas through the resultant cracks and fissures. This process of hydraulic fracturing is known as fracking and has been conducted in the USA, Australia, Canada and other countries for some time now.

Ever since the release of the award winning documentary Gasland, a shocking tale of the deleterious effects of fracking on the land, water and people, the very mention of the words raises hackles in many quarters. The fracking process involves pumping millions of litres of water laced with a nasty mix of chemicals (carcinogens and toxic substances) into each well so as to fracture the shale and release the gas.

NY Fracking PosterDespite reassurances from the mining and energy companies that environmental fears are misguided, one does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that fracking must impact severely on the health of our planet. Groundwater is both polluted and depleted and massive amounts of methane (a major greenhouse gas) are released into the atmosphere. The fracking footprint on the landscape is immense with huge machinery and rigs deployed onto mining sites. Nobody has any idea of the long term geological impacts of fracking.

Drilling for gas near Pinedale, Wyoming Public opinion is today very much against the process and a moratorium has been declared in France whilst certain US states refuse to grant the necessary permission for fracking.

The mining and energy giants are now looking to less problematic and weakly regulated countries to continue their quest for more energy dollars – and South Africa is one of the gems in their war chest. The Karoo, a vast arid basin in the interior of South Africa, is being eyed by the global heavyweights, with Shell and others chomping at the bit. The government misguidedly granted exploration permits last year, but after stiff opposition from local residents, ever increasing bad news out of the USA regarding environmental concerns plus the airing of Gasland, a moratorium on gas activities in the Karoo was declared until the possible environmental impact could be better understood.

Sadly, the cash rich mining and energy companies will not be easily stopped and may well buy and/or bully their way into the Karoo and beyond. As Tisha Greyling of Golder Associates, Shell’s local consultants, stated.....”If it’s not Shell, it will be someone else.” A Karoo farmer said it all at a recent meeting with Shell......”fracking the Karoo.....is like you coming and drilling holes in our mother, and then leaving us to look after her and take her to hospital. Leave the Karoo alone!”

For further information on the fracking story go to http://www.karoospace.co.za