FRACKING:

‘real Africa’

Finweek English Edition - - COLUMN -

The fracking process brings

a sig­nif­i­cant risk of con­tam­i­na­tion of SA’s valu­able wa­ter re­sources and

can pol­lute drink­ing wa­ter

ONE YEAR WHEN my sis­ter-in-law came from Europe to visit us she ex­pressed a wish to see “the real Africa” – not just Euro­peanised Cape Town and the sur­round­ing scenery, how­ever magnificent.

So we set off for the Ka­roo. It gave my sis­terin-law a feel­ing of the wide open spaces, the end­less land fad­ing into the dis­tance, the scent of the wild herbs grow­ing by the road­side – noth­ing like the English coun­try­side. She said she could “hear the si­lence”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her plans were afoot from Suther­land in the west to Graaff-Reinet to “frack” the area. Hy­draulic frac­tur­ing of rocks – called “fracking” – is in­tended to find and ex­ploit shale gas re­serves buried deep in un­der­ground rock for­ma­tions.

To ac­cess those re­serves, liq­uid is pumped down at high pres­sure into a well that’s been drilled into the gas-bear­ing rock. That causes the rock to frac­ture, cre­at­ing cracks through which the gas can es­cape. The liq­uid used gen­er­ally con­sists mainly of wa­ter, mixed with sand and chem­i­cals. Ac­cord­ing to one re­port, many dif­fer­ent chem­i­cal agents are used and many of these are flagged as dan­ger­ous to hu­mans and the en­vi­ron­ment.

Three oil com­pa­nies are eyeing the ex­plo­ration of the gas trapped in the un­der­ground shale for­ma­tions of the Ka­roo. Shell re­cently ap­plied for ex­plo­ration li­cences for an area of 90 000sq km – roughly three times the size of Le­sotho. Com­mu­ni­ties in the Ka­roo are an­gry and con­cerned. An­gry, ac­cord­ing to one re­port, be­cause they have lit­tle or no say in what hap­pens to the min­er­als be­neath their land and con­cerned be­cause of the dan­ger­ous ef­fects on the en­vi­ron­ment of shale gas ex­plo­ration.

Sci­en­tists have also be­gun to ex­press their anx­i­ety to the pow­ers that be. Lead­ing busi­ness peo­ple and na­tional fig­ures have made their con­cerns pub­lic, armed with in­for­ma­tion on the re­sult of fracking in the United States, where large ar­eas have been dev­as­tated.

kas­mal@uwc.ac.za

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