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Get out the Karoo, farmers tell Shell
22 March 2011
Guy Rogers

ANGRY residents of the Middleburg area have called for Shell to “get out the Karoo” after the company failed to guarantee the security of their water if fracking goes ahead.  Addressing Shell representatives at a hall in Middelburg’s Grootfontein Agricultural College in a hall packed with farmers in T-shirts saying “Don’t Frack with our Karoo,” members of the audience asked repeatedly if the multi-national could “guarantee no risk to our water”.

Shell technical expert Tony Cortis eventually responded,  “You can’t plan for every eventuality” – and earned a howl of outrage in return.

The meeting was hosted by Shell and their consultant Golder Associates as part of the public participation process to discuss the draft environmental management plan (EMP).

The report was prepared by Golder as part of Shell’s application to explore for shale gas in a 98000ha tract of the Karoo through the western, northern and eastern Cape.

At centrestage is hydraulic fracturing or fracking, the controversial method Shell says it will be using to extract the gas.

Fracking uses up to six million litres of water for each well. Laced with chemicals and other corrosion additives, it is pumped down the drill shaft, then forced at great pressure through apertures in the shaft into the surrounding shale rock bed, which can lie up to 5km below the surface. The shale fractures and releases gas which travels back up a separate shaft to be harvested as a source of electricity.

Golder facilitator Robin Housome began the meeting on a bizarre note by explaining at length to the audience how to get out the hall in an emergency, as their safety was of importance to Golder and Shell. The audience – most of whom it was clear believe Shell’s fracking could cause a real emergency – laughed incredulously.

Attorney Derek Light who is representing 200 landowners and other complainants in the matter said the draft EMP is “not worth the paper it is written on”.

“I have read through 2000 pages but there is no scientific content, no site-specific data, no facts at all, that allow us to weight the risk involved in what is being proposed, that will enable us to comment meaningfully.

“You can dress it up as pretty as you like but it does not tell the story.”

The right to explore that Shell is applying for is an invasive right, so this generic formulation of the draft EMP, around a hypothetical well and desk top studies, is fatally flawed and unlawful in terms of the landowners’ constitutional rights, he said.

Central to the “lack of detail” charge is the refusal of the company to reveal what chemicals it will be using to frack, or from where it will get the huge volumes of water required.

The draft EMP says water source options are municipal waste water, seawater that Shell would bring in by train, waste water from mines or water from dams, rivers or boreholes.

The chemicals’ issue was highlighted in the US documentary Split Estate screened by the farming community before the meeting.

In it, former senior US Environmental Protection Agency environmental engineer Weston Wilson says in an interview some of the chemicals used in the fracking liquid are “toxic to the point of injection”.

The documentary showed interviews with people who describe how their health deteriorated once fracking started near their homes, through water and air pollution. Footage showed rivers bubbling with gas which flared when lit, and how this phenomenon only started when fracking began nearby.

Asked about this, and other horrors described in the Oscar nominated fil Gasland, Cortis said, “there has been pollution…. but this has been the result of faulty installations.”

Asked to explain how the fracked gas will always percolate in a controlled way out the shaft and not through fissures widened by the fracking up into the aquifer – he told The Herald no evidence had ever showed that this could occur.

He confirmed however that not all the chemicals pumped into the ground can be extracted. Asked about the danger of long-term leaching of this fluid into aquifers, he answered once again that no tests had showed that this can occur.

Golder has recommended in its draft EMP that Shell should be allowed to proceed with exploration inclusive of up to 24 wells, but that no production right should be granted until the federal government study into fracking, underway in the US, has produced its results.

Light said it was incomprehensible that Golder could approve fracking in the exploration phase of the Karoo project but urge caution before it is introduced in the production phase.

Asked about this, project leader Brett Baxter told The Herald “stakeholders have expressed a lot of concern specifically around the production phase.

“We did consider how this applied to exploration but felt that with the limited number of wells in this phase plus mitigation measures, it was acceptable.”

A key premise of the anti-fracking lobby is that much of their groundwater is inter-linked and any contamination at even one site could quickly spread.

Donald Smiles MP earned the biggest cheer from the audience when he demanded of the Golder and Shell officials: “are you aware that the people of the Karoo do not want to deal with any risk to their water?

“The water is our treasure. It is our only thing.”



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Your comments

Janet [28 March 2011 16:21]
I don’t believe that there’s any way that fracking could be perceived as being viable for the Karoo, or any other area in the world for that matter. It’s invasive, water-intensive and highly dangerous, regardless of what might be proposed and said to sugar-coat it. Even a 1/100 chance of contamination of water or air is not acceptable. Farming in the Karoo, the ecology, the people and the animals all depend on the little bit of water that we have in this area. Our country is already suffering a general scarcity in water resources, it’s outrageous to think that we should or would risk our water to support and permit a controversial and dangerous mining method for NON-renewable energy. The money, resources, time and energy for fracking should be put into exploring renewable energy such as solar and wind energy! The risks of fracking on our water, people’s health, and air quality (chemical pollution is ALWAYS a bad thing!!) does not balance out with the short-term benefits that gas mining offers.
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Feiko [26 March 2011 21:56]
I am Dutch and I shame myself for the misbehaviour of Shell in South Africa, Nigeria and other countries. It could possibly help if you let Geenpeace know what happens in the Karoo ([email protected]). Greenpeace fights companies that act in unlawful ways and don’t respect the population and the environment. It is a primary Dutch organisation, but it acts world wide. I wish you the best in your struggle for your rights!
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Hennie [26 March 2011 8:49]
Shell, go try and do your fracking in Holland and see what your fellow country men will say – LEAVE OUR SOUTH AFRICA AS IT IS!!!! We will not benifit – only Shell will Next step boycott Shell…
Report Abuse

JvO [25 March 2011 18:30]
LEAVE THE KAROO ALONE!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is our beautiful country side and home, and to allow shell anywhere near it would be devastating!!!! “Stop fracking up the karoo”!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Malcolm [25 March 2011 14:44]
I fully support the suggestion to boycott all Shell products. If they have no regard for the countryside or impact it will have on nature and the inhabitants, why should we contribute to their profits by using Shell.
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Tim [25 March 2011 8:21]
Nooo,we shouldn` boycott Shell unles we are hundred percnt satisfied that ou action will yield the desired results! How do you boycott a multinational that is JSE listed;global and don`t depend on ordinary people for business. What should have happened and should happen now is for the constitutionalisation of corporacy to which this is what any new government will tell you that your first priority is to drag corporacy into your constitution,or semantics or ideologies! If that would have been th case thn Shell woul have followed the law in its bid!
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Mark [24 March 2011 16:41]
I think that everyone in South Africa and indeed worldwide should boycott Shell garages if they insist on carrying on with this destructive fracking which will destroy the water table of our beautiful Karoo. Lets hit them in their pockets because that appears to be the only language that they understand.
Report Abuse

jseus [24 March 2011 13:13]
go home greedy yankee doodle doo. when the sh@t hits the fan they will be nowhere to be seen just like in wall street with the housing pyramid.
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Werner du Plessis [24 March 2011 11:34]
Shell, or any other company, that really believe themselves when they say the following : 1. Fracking would not leave a permanent scar in the area they mine. 2. Fracking would not bring risks into the area that WAS NOT THERE BEFORE. 3. They would leave the area a better place when they’re finished. 4. They will help the farmers in the area to deal with losses that occured as result of fracking. THEY LIE! The so-called benefit for the community and job creation should also be looked at, everyone claims that jobs will be created if they need permission to start something, but how longterm will it be and what happens to people when they stop the projects. People will be brought into the area if locals can’t provide enough labour, these people will be left in squatter camps outside towns when the “frackers” leave, who will be responsable for this? I can go on for hours, point is : If you can’t assure that the “benefits” you bring will make a longterm contribution in the area and its inheritance, STAY OUT!
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Dr C Pretorius [22 March 2011 19:55]
Like all neo-colonialists, Shell will strip our country of it’s beauty and leave nothing, except for the ‘black whitemen’s’ stuffed pockets.
Report Abuse

Greyscale [22 March 2011 12:36]
“can’t plan for every eventuality”? The karoo doesn’t have much water to begin with and now they want to tamper with that without planning for ‘every eventuality? This is disgusting!!! Leave the Karoo alone!
Report Abuse

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