In parks

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TECHNOLOGY -

de­pen­dence on coal-fired elec­tric­ity are gal­va­niz­ing. Botswana im­ports half its en­ergy from neigh­bour­ing coun­tries.

“This (film) is for the peo­ple across the re­gion to know what this in­dus­try might en­tail, so that they can take the best de­ci­sion,” said Richard Lee, a spokesman for the Open So­ci­ety Ini­tia­tive for South­ern Africa, a gov­er­nance group that funded Bar­bee’s pro­ject.

Bar­bee, who now lives in Jo­han­nes­burg, was ex­posed to frack­ing in his home county of Garfield, Colorado. He said some of those who once sup­ported frack­ing there now wish it had never come to Garfield. When en­ergy com­pa­nies pro­posed frack­ing in South­ern Africa, he de­cided to make a film – a kind of let­ter from Garfield, one of Amer­ica’s most in­ten­sively fracked ar­eas, to south­ern Africans.

“Where I come from in Garfield, Colorado, the gas in­dus­try came into the area with very lit­tle fan­fare,” Bar­bee said. “Fif­teen years later, we are left with an en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lem in our val­ley so huge that we don’t yet un­der­stand what has been harmed and what has been lost.”

Bar­bee spoke to ac­tivists in Garfield and else­where and also in­ter­viewed ex­perts from the Univer­sity of Colorado who cast doubt on as­ser­tions of how clean nat­u­ral gas ex­trac­tion is, be­cause of emis­sions and leaks from well heads.

A 2012 Colorado School of Pub­lic Health re­port cited “acute and chronic health prob­lems for those liv­ing near nat­u­ral gas drilling sites.” The study fo­cused on toxic emis­sions in Garfield County from 2008 to 2010.

Drilling in Botswana’s na­tional parks, where tens of thou­sands of ele­phants roam, is caus­ing par­tic­u­lar con­cern. Bar­bee in­ter­viewed Botswana farmer Ben Moller, who said the ele­phants de­pend on clean wa­ter from bore holes along their mi­gra­tion route.

“These ele­phants bank on these bore holes. If it hap­pens that these bore holes get con­tam­i­nated, it will be a huge dis­as­ter for the ele­phants,” Moller said in the film.

Coal-bed meth­ane ex­trac­tion re­quires pump­ing large amounts of wa­ter out of the ground. The wa­ter can be clean, but can also be highly saline or radioactive, ac­cord­ing to stud­ies cited by the film.

“The in­dus­try says the wa­ter can be used for crops and an­i­mals. I don’t think that’s an ac­cu­rate re­flec­tion of the Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence,” said the film’s pro­ducer, Mira Dutschke.

The ex­trac­tion process can also cause the wa­ter ta­ble to drop by sev­eral yards, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts quoted in the film, a de­vel­op­ment that would be alarm­ing in Botswana, a dry coun­try with vast swaths of desert.

Botswana’s govern­ment re­leased a state­ment in par­lia­ment last week say­ing the wa­ter sup­plies would be pro­tected. It de­scribed Bar­bee’s film as a “smear cam­paign” and called on law­mak­ers to “de­fend the sovereignty of our state”.

“This is not a smear cam­paign in any way,” Bar­bee said. “It’s a wake-up call to sug­gest let’s all have a dis­cus­sion about whether this ac­tiv­ity should oc­cur, and where is it best for it to oc­cur for the peo­ple of Botswana and for the wildlife they’re so fa­mous for pro­tect­ing.”

Bar­bee also wor­ries about his adopted home, where Shell South Africa has pro­posed ex­ten­sive frack­ing and gas ex­trac­tion in the Ka­roo, a vast desert area in the coun­try’s south. Shell, which is plan­ning to in­vest about US$1bil (RM3.2bil) in the de­vel­op­ment, says it is “the game-chang­ing op­por­tu­nity that South Africa needs”.

Shell South Africa’s chair­man, Bo­nang Mo­hale, said last year that gas extracted through frack­ing could “ad­dress job cre­ation, ben­e­fit the poor in South Africa, stim­u­late the econ­omy and se­cure en­ergy sup­ply for South Africans.”

Af­ter con­tro­versy erupted in South Africa over the pro­posed Ka­roo pro­ject, the govern­ment in­tro­duced a mora­to­rium on frack­ing in 2011. Al­though the coun­try lifted a ban on frack­ing just over a year ago, the mora­to­rium re­mains in place, the Busi­ness Day news­pa­per re­ported last month.

Also last month, the govern­ment pro­posed reg­u­la­tions on gas ex­plo­ration that would gov­ern frack­ing and called for pub­lic com­ment. Op­po­nents of frack­ing are ex­pected to take le­gal ac­tion to try to pre­vent it from go­ing ahead.

Un­der the pro­posed reg­u­la­tions, the South African govern­ment could have up to a 50% stake in gas ex­trac­tion op­er­a­tions.

Crit­ics are scep­ti­cal of Shell’s claims that the poor will ben­e­fit from such projects. They ar­gue that while jobs are re­quired at the out­set to build well in­fra­struc­ture, these are tran­sient func­tions typ­i­cally per­formed by highly skilled out­siders.

“The riches of min­ing in Africa have never, ever been shown to trickle down to the peo­ple who have to live with the con­se­quences of it,” Jonathan Deal, spokesman of the Trea­sure the Ka­roo Ac­tion Group, told Bar­bee. – Los An­ge­les Times/McClatchy Tri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

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