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.