Gas probe plan ig­nites anger

Ka­roo res­i­dents are mount­ing mas­sive op­po­si­tion to Shell Oil’s pro­posed hy­draulic frac­tur­ing for meth­ane gas in their re­gion, writes Anna-Marie Smith

Business Day - Home Front - - HOMEFRONT -

PROP­ERTY own­ers, in­clud­ing farm­ers and res­i­dents strongly re­sist­ing the pro­posed ex­plo­ration of the Ka­roo re­gion, have re­sorted to legal ac­tion.

Royal Dutch Shell and Bundu Gas and Oil Ex­plo­ration have sub­mit­ted ap­pli­ca­tions to the Pe­tro­leum Agency of SA (PASA) for fracking of shale gas in the Ka­roo, with in­ter­est shown by Sa­sol, An­glo Amer­i­can and Fal­con Oil and Gas.

Prom­i­nent Ka­roo res­i­dents, in­clud­ing Jo­hann Ru­pert, have joined forces in point­ing out the po­ten­tial in­fringe­ment of en­vi­ron­men­tal and com­mu­nity rights, as well as wa­ter pol­lu­tion dan­ger.

Princess Irene of the Nether­lands, who owns the Bo­plaas Re­serve in the Ka­roo, has voiced her con­cerns pub­licly.

Most cru­cially, con­cerns are about dan­gers to un­der­ground wa­ter sources and the po­ten­tial of wa­ter ta­bles pos­si­bly be­com­ing dam­aged, drain­ing away scarce un­der­ground wa­ter.

While those in op­po­si­tion of this ac­tion re­alise that it is early days yet with much in­for­ma­tion still to be pro­vided, grow­ing con­cerns re­late to Shell’s pro­posed method of drilling. Hy­draulic frac­tur­ing — col­lo­qui­ally called fracking — is an un­reg­u­lated min­ing prac­tice in SA that not only re­quires both ver­ti­cal and hor­i­zon­tal drilling, but also high­pres­sure blast­ing of large quan- tities of wa­ter, chem­i­cals and sand as far as 3 000m be­low the sur­face into rock for­ma­tions.

Derek Light, a lawyer repre- sent­ing Ka­roo land own­ers, said: “We are very con­cerned about the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, es­pe­cially be­cause fracking is not reg­u­lated in SA.” Light said farm­ers were wor­ried about the sen­si­tiv­ity of the un­der­ground wa­ter sys­tems on which the Ka­roo is to­tally de­pen­dent, should any con­tam­i­na­tion take place.

Mark Botha, head of con­ser­va­tion at en­vi­ron­men­tal group WWF SA, re­cently said: “We’ve got some se­ri­ous con­cerns about fracking; it is as yet an un­proven tech­nol­ogy with un­ac­cept­able risks for fresh-wa­ter ab­strac­tion and pol­lu­tion.”

Trea­sure the Ka­roo Ac­tion Group (TKAG), a newly formed rep­re­sen­ta­tive body co-or­di­nat­ing the con­cerns of stake­hold­ers, has chal­lenged PASA re­gard­ing the pro­posed grant­ing of li­cences for the ex­trac­tion of shale gas from the Ka­roo basin.

Jonathan Deal, of TKAG, said a sys­tems ecol­o­gist and pol­icy an­a­lyst rep­re­sent­ing Golder, the en­vi­ron­men­tal agency ap­pointed by Shell, re­cently con­firmed that “the Ka­roo econ­omy will not sur­vive gas min­ing”.

Deal says ev­i­dence of se­vere en­vi­ron­men­tal and com­mu­nity health dam­age caused by the same min­ing method in the US as a re­sult of the cu­mu­la­tive im­pact of toxic spills from frack waste wa­ter, has been seen. Pensylvania en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­perts say drilling close to wa­ter sources has seen se­vere con­tam­i­na­tion of do­mes­tic wa­ter, an in­crease in traf­fic due to the truck­ing of waste wa­ter, or, as pro­posed by Shell, the truck­ing in of sea­wa­ter, which, if leaked, would transform the Ka­roo into a waste­land.

Shell last week stated that it “would im­ple­ment in our pro­ject any rel­e­vant rec­om­men­da­tions that may arise from a study of hy­draulic frac­tur­ing by the US En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, which is cur­rently un­der way and will con­tinue un­til 2014.”

How­ever, Deal says New York State in the US had placed a mora­to­rium on fracking last De­cem­ber, with France tak­ing the same ac­tion last week. Al­though Min­is­ter of Min­eral Re­sources Su­san Sha­bangu placed an in­def­i­nite mora­to­rium on the pro­cess­ing of all new ex­plo­ration and pro­duc­tion rights in the Ka­roo ear­lier this month, it does not ap­ply to ap­pli­ca­tions al­ready sub­mit­ted.

Last week Shell stated: “The Ka­roo is a spe­cial place for South Africans. We must pre­serve it for our fu­ture and our chil­dren’s fu­ture. As South Africans we must also se­cure a sus­tain­able en­ergy fu­ture, re­duc­ing our de­pen­dence on coal by us­ing more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly op­tions avail­able such as nat­u­ral gas.”

TKAG rep­re­sen­ta­tive Glen Ash­ton says: “Shell has pledged to use ‘green chem­istry’ and to pro­vide full dis­clo­sure of all chem­i­cals it pro­poses to use.”

He says even os­ten­si­bly re­spectable cor­po­ra­tions like Shell have poor his­tor­i­cal track records, and their role of ex­ploita­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal catas­tro­phe in Nige­ria is par­tic­u­larly damn­ing.

Wayne Ru­bidge, Pam Gold­ing Prop­er­ties man­ager Ka­roo, says the semi-desert his­tor­i­cal Ka­roo re­gion of 52 towns is pop­u­lar with na­ture lovers due to its nat­u­ral life­style that is free of pol­lu­tion and over-de­vel­op­ment.

Ru­bidge says high de­mand for va­cant land has im­pacted pos­i­tively on prop­erty prices, and two game farms of 3 000ha and 7 000ha re­cently fetched about R3 300m². Prince Al­bert and Graaff Reinet have the high­est res­i­den­tial prop­erty prices in the re­gion, with mid­dle-in­come homes from R750 000, re­stored his­tor­i­cal homes from R1,4m and top prop­er­ties from R2m to R2,8m.

Lo­cal res­i­dent Jo­han Min­naar says that long-term sus­tain­abil­ity of both the en­vi­ron­ment and tourism in the area can only take place through preser­va­tion of the land for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions by com­mu­ni­ties who are mind­ful of their as­sets.


Ka­roo houses for sale.


An aerial view of the Ka­roo land­scape.

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