04 Aug 2011: Report

In Arid South African Lands,
Fracking Controversy Emerges

The contentious practice of hydrofracking to extract underground natural gas has now made its way to South Africa’s Karoo, a semi-desert known for its stark beauty and indigenous plants. But opposition is growing amid concern that fracking will deplete and pollute the area’s scarce water supplies.

by todd pitock

On a cool day in May, Jonathan Deal, the 52-year-old owner of an ecotourism farm called Gecko Rock, strikes up a steep kopje at a pace most people maintain going downhill. As he leads a few visitors on an all-day hike across his 10,000-acre property in the South African bush, he steps onto boulders covered in red lichen and points out — in Latin, Afrikaans, and English — the species of the indigenous flora called fynbos, whose flowers and shoots color this vast semi-desert of the Karoo.

Deal is obviously in his element. But it’s also apparent that he is more full of zeal than joy, his mood betrayed by his preoccupied gaze.

“Look at this,” he says, fingering a hundred-year-old creeping aloe thriving on the hillside. “Once this is gone, it cannot be replaced. They say they’ll leave it all better than they found it. How is that possible? I tell you, it is not possible.”

“They” are a group of global energy companies — including Royal Dutch Shell, South Africa’s SASOL, and others — that have leased rights to an immense shale field that runs across the country’s midsection. The companies have promised billions in revenue, much-needed jobs, and energy security for all.

But the issue here — as in similar natural gas-rich shale fields in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere — is largely over how the gas is harvested, namely a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which uses a
South Africa has placed a moratorium on future fracking permits until the environmental impacts can be evaluated.
combination of water, sand, and chemicals to crack the subterranean rock where gas (and oil) are trapped. And as intensifying publicity about the environmental risks of fracking has spread from the United States to South Africa, opposition to hydrofracturing in the Karoo has grown, prompting the South African government to place a moratorium on all future fracking permits until the practice’s environmental impacts can be evaluated.

The controversy has put the government in a tough spot. Seventeen years after the end of apartheid, the African National Congress-led government is under pressure to deliver jobs, services, and greater prosperity to the country’s largely impoverished and increasingly impatient population. The sparsely populated, semi-desert Karoo has a mixed-ethnic population of 300,000, including native Khoisan people, other black Africans, and white farmers. Many of the region’s residents live in squalid settlements that are a remnant of the apartheid era, and the government clearly hoped that a hydrofracturing boom would bring jobs and greater prosperity to the region.

Opposition to fracking in the Karoo has been centered not in the black settlements, but more among the white farmers and landowners who fear that the industry will pollute and deplete already scarce water supplies in this rain-starved region. Each fracking drilling well requires millions of liters of water and produces large quantities of tainted wastewater that must be treated.

Karoo Landscape South Africa
Photo courtesy of Todd Pitock
The semi-desert Karoo is known for its variety of endemic flora and fauna, including succulent plants and small reptiles.
In February, Deal, along with an environmentalist named Lewis Pugh, formed Treasure the Karoo Action Group, or TKAG, to organize opposition. The two men say they have spent a combined $60,000 of their own money, plus another $26,000 raised in small donations. Pugh, whose mother’s family first came to the Karoo almost 200 years ago, is a well-known figure here who has drawn attention to water-related issues by swimming in extreme environments wearing just a Speedo, cap, and goggles.

“‘Karoo’ comes from a Khoisan word for ‘thirsty land’,” Pugh told me in Cape Town. “Even if the chemicals were safe, and they are not, there just isn’t enough water to spare. Water is going to be a source of conflict. Do you think the Karoo farmers are going to let Shell show up and destroy their farms? They’re going to grab their rifles.”

Shell and other oil and gas companies say that hydrofracturing can be done in an environmentally safe way, and would bring jobs and lease income to the people of the Karoo. But Pugh and other opponents counter that the wells will produce for as few as five years, so the jobs and the benefits will be temporary. The damage, however, will be permanent, says Pugh, including the infrastructure required to retrieve the gas and the heavy trucks and equipment that will rumble through, turning parts of one of the planet’s most pristine and biodiverse environments into an industrial zone.



Interest in natural gas fracking in the Karoo is, as in many other places, a relatively new phenomenon, in large part because new horizontal drilling technology enables gas companies to drill a single well and exploit gas reserves for many miles to the side. In the Karoo, industry officials argue that there is no risk to water and the environmental impact, above or below the surface, will be minimal. The natural gas they’re harvesting, they say, is at an average depth of 2,500 meters — 2,000 meters below the deepest aquifers. The companies say their drill bits, the size of a coffee table, run through a poured concrete funnel within stainless steel casing, forming an impermeable barrier. Because of horizontal drilling, Shell says it intends to drill only 8 to 24 wells over a 35,000-square-mile area.

South Africa divides land ownership between surface and subsurface rights. The “split estate” means that farmers and homeowners own the land they can see, while rights to any minerals or resources that lie below are the government’s to exploit. The fact that Karoo farmers and landowners do not stand to directly earn royalties, as they would in many parts of the U.S.,
‘How will these companies be made accountable for the damages they might do?’ asked one farmer.
is one reason residents in the Karoo are more resistant to fracking.

TKAG, with a handful of core leaders and about 100 volunteers, has emerged as the main opposition group to fracking in the Karoo. Greenpeace is active, too. Another group, Earthlife Africa — a volunteer-based civil society organization — has called for a boycott of Shell. Muna Lakhani, 54, the volunteer branch coordinator in Cape Town for Earthlife Africa, criticized Shell for ignoring the interests of the Karoo’s black residents, significantly overstating fracking’s economic benefits while underplaying the environmental impacts.

“The bottom line is that the poor people in the Karoo have not been engaged by the Shell environmental management plan,” said Lakhani. “Some of them are living right on the edge, very precariously, and of course they don’t have everything they should have. One of the most precious resources is water. They don’t have the resources or the capacity to fight in court or to truck in water as wealthy people can. Shell has made it clear they’ll only consider compensation if it can be proved that the contamination came from their wells. Think of someone poor. How on Earth will they be able get justice?”

The more prosperous white farmers in the Karoo also worry about water contamination and water shortages that could be caused by fracking. In June, a delegation of Karoo farmers visited Pennsylvania and New York, where gas fracking in the Marcellus Shale is intensifying. The visit seemed to do little to allay their fears, according to a report in the Huffington Post.

After listening to a representative from a landowner group that supports fracking, Karoo farmer Doug Stern reportedly said, “He speaks so glibly about the acreage he represents and how safe everything is. But how will these companies be made accountable for the damages they might do?”

In his speeches opposing fracking in the Karoo, Pugh — whose supporters include Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Bishop Desmond Tutu — reminds listeners that South Africans had died for inalienable rights enshrined in the country’s 1994 Constitution, including access to clean water and a
The worry is that the Karoo will become the arid twin to another drilling center, the Niger delta.
healthy environment. Fracking in the Karoo threatens those rights, said Pugh.

In May, a Shell official and Deal debated at the University of Cape Town’s School of Business. Bonang Mohale, chairman and vice president of Shell South Africa Marketing (Pty) Limited, argued that Shell had been fracking for 60 years and had not had a single incident at any of its 800,000 wells. “We use between three and eight chemicals per well, and never more than eight,” he later told me. “They’re all 100 percent biodegradable.”

If the claim was surprising — until late June, the makers of fracking chemicals in the U.S. had refused even to disclose the chemicals, saying they were proprietary secrets — his message was nonetheless a promise of hope: jobs and prosperity for a region where economic opportunity has dried up. He extolled Shell’s 109-year record in South Africa, saying it employs 1,400 people directly and has created 20,000 related jobs. At its facility in Durban, which it operates as a joint venture with BP, it produces 180,000 barrels of oil per day, and it was the first international oil company in South Africa to attain the government’s highest rating on affirmative action, Mohale said.

The need for development is undeniable. The failure to deliver services is the African National Congress’s Achilles heel. The government has increased access to water and electrification, but it hasn’t managed to seriously dent the intractable poverty.

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One of TKAG’s weaknesses is that while it is clear what the group opposes, it lacks an alternative vision for development. “The Karoo is just fine as it is, thank you,” Mark Van Tubbergh, a TKAG loyalist from Cape Town told me. But that’s debatable. The only people making money in the Karoo are a relative handful of landowners who have turned their properties into hunting lodges. The farmers are either relatively affluent people like Deal, whose property is a second home, or poor people just getting by.

En route to the beauty so beloved by environmentalists, you see passels of men braving windswept plains as they peddle boxes of fruit they’ve taken from fields. They are the ones who will doubtless suffer most acutely from water contamination or water shortages. But even as they live at the epicenter and stand to lose the most, they’re barely in the discussion.

The worry is that the Karoo will become the arid twin to another drilling center, the Niger Delta in Nigeria — where local people have largely remained destitute as foreign oil companies have contaminated the land and the water. “You can’t put energy security ahead of water security,” Pugh said. “Water is life. There is nothing without it.”

Correction, August 4, 2011: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the South African firm, Sasol Ltd., as a state-owned company.

POSTED ON 04 Aug 2011 IN Business & Innovation Climate Energy Energy Policy & Politics Pollution & Health Science & Technology Africa North America 

COMMENTS


Sasol has not been state-owned for years. It's a publicly traded company.

Posted by Simon Barber on 04 Aug 2011


South Africa has frequent power shortages. One quarter of the population "survives" on less than $1.25 a day. Coal and the carbon it spews into the sky powers over 90% of SA.
Water: NY State and Pennsylvania both say that fracking takes up less than .2 of 1 Percent of total water resources. Admittedly they are much wetter than the Karoo, but they are far more populated. Consider that shale is going forward in the Oz outback and is being considered in Saudi, Oman, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, i.e environments broadly similar to the Karoo.

I think what these guys are doing to the majority of South Africans is nothing short of obscene. What is more obscene is the alleged white \"liberals\" trying to pretend that being green trumps the big, far more important issues than shale.

Posted by Nick Grealy on 04 Aug 2011


Some notes on this story:

1) It's disappointing that the author did not interrogate Shell's claim that their fracking chemicals are "100% biodegradable" as this claim runs to the heart of the controversy around the procedure.

2) The statement that "The only people making money in the Karoo are a relative handful of landowners who have turned their properties into hunting lodges" is totally inaccurate. There are thousands of people making a living off activities as diverse as (often very lucrative) intensive ostrich farming, extensive sheep farming, ecotourism, mining and even cheese making (http://youtu.be/81hkVWliYdk) in the Karoo.

3) The Karoo is characterised by succulent-dominated vegetation types, not fynbos. Fynbos is a hyper-diverse, uniquely South African vegetation type (very different to succulent karoo types) that is confined to the southwestern coastal area and a few hill/mountain ranges in the far southern Karoo - it does not cover the Karoo. It's possible the author encountered both fynbos and succulent karoo species on his walk, but it's inaccurate to imply that fynbos is the dominant vegetation type across the Karoo.

4) The word 'kopje' is not used in South Africa - we use 'koppie'. 'Kopje' is Dutch/anachronistic. 'Koppie' (= 'little head') is Afrikaans for a small hill or rocky outcrop, and we say and write it like that in many languages. Much like American journalists' insistence on calling Cape Town, 'Capetown', and spelling veld, 'veldt', it remains a mystery to me as to why they insist on calling koppies, 'kopjes'.

All in all, as a scientifically-literate South African who has spent a lot of time in various parts of the Karoo, I was sadly disappointed by this extremely superficial story. Yale Environment 360 should be doing a lot better than this.

Posted by Adam Welz on 04 Aug 2011


Dear Mr. Grealy

I will relish the opportunity to meet you at any time, on any forum to debate your views on fracking, 'white liberals' and related obscene topics. Step up to the plate, won't you?

Jonathan Deal
Chairman, TKAG, South Africa

Posted by Jonathan Deal on 04 Aug 2011


It would have been useful to independently confirm the claims made, on both sides (to the extent that the drilling companies were represented).

Bonang's claim about biodegradable chemicals is true only for an absurdly broad definition of the term, for example. You don't want to water your vegetable garden with that stuff, let's put it that way. He deserves to be challenged on this point.

Likewise, the perception created by Pugh and Deal is that damage will be certain, widespread and irreversible. That it will "destroy" the Karoo. Pugh sets up a neat dichotomy between energy and water. Surely the media, or academia, ought to interrogate such a claim, and find out whether the choice really is that stark, or whether this is mere rhetoric, setting up a false dichotomy intended to appeal to emotion rather than reason? Is widespread pollution likely, or will pollution incidents be rare, containable and remediable?

I find it surprising, for example, that Deal, in a debate hosted by Rhodes University in which I participated, freely admitted that the group's rhetoric was at first overly emotional. Yet in this piece they repeat the same dire warnings about sparking violence and choosing between energy and water.

I've heard from Karoo landowners who doubt Pugh and Deal, but who are afraid to speak up because their neighbours have threatened to burn down their farms. This emotional language isn't just innocent activism that got a debate on the agenda. It causes real harm and poses real dangers, not just to people who disagree, but to official policy making. South Africa can't afford the luxury of refusing to take advantage of its natural resources because green activists won't settle for anything less than a perfectly untouched environment.

Posted by Ivo Vegter on 04 Aug 2011


Dear Mr. Grealy how long did you think it would take for me to find out that you are a paid consultant to the oil and gas industry? Don't you think that it would be honest to add this 'little qualifier' to your opinion? And where Sir, do you stand on the fracking industry's claims that there has not been a single documented case of groundwater pollution from fracking? Come and visit us in SA Nick - be my guest. In the meantime, when in FRACKED US, choose the bottled water option rather than out of the tap.

Jonathan Deal, Chairman, TKAG, South Africa.

Posted by Jonathan Deal on 04 Aug 2011


Hello again Ivo - what I said was that when the battle began in January, 2011, we had to use emotional language to get the attention of people in SA who were unaware of the threat. I have learned that Shell et al have been working on this for years - now that we have arrested their momentum, we have the opportunity to oppose them on a calculated legal and scientific basis. By the way, if all is above board and to the advantage of South Africa, why do you suppose our government ministers are being either purposefully evasive or pathetically silent on this critical debate?

Jonathan Deal, Chairman, TKAG

Posted by Jonathan Deal on 04 Aug 2011


Dear Mr Welz,

Whilst you undoubtedly are possessed of a detailed knowledge of South Africa, its plants and culture, your nitpicking regarding semantics and specifics detracts from your opinion. I authored and published a book in 2007 in which I also refer to koppies as kopjes - and it was good enough for the editorial team at Struik to accept. Essentially, they both have the same meaning, except that your version can also refer to more than one 'cup' - a koppie. So you can choose if you'd like to climb a hill or drink out of it.

Apropos your comment on the chemicals used in fracking, I cannot support your view that this 'runs to the heart of the controversy'. There are many other aspects to this debate and to focus on this one issue - as you do in your comments is to trivialize others which are equally important.

I do thank you for some of the factual opinion expressed, especially with regards to people who live and work in the Karoo. Perhaps there is the opportunity to harness some of your skills in contributing more meaningfully to this debate?

Do email me at your convenience....

Jonathan Deal, Chairman, TKAG, South Africa.

Posted by Jonathan Deal on 04 Aug 2011


Jonathan the figures I gave you on the actual demand on water resources are from the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation report. Just because I get compensated by among others the gas industry doesn't make that scientific fact untrue. Every one has to eat. I guess Princess Irene supports the Save the Karoo fund for example.

I now stand corrected, thank to the NYT on the subject of groundwater contamination. I accept that there is compelling evidence of one case in 1987 of one case out of over a million wells. One case does not disprove the safety out of the other 999,999. To me at least, happy go lucky and incautious as I am, it's an acceptable level of risk. And chemicals? There's chemicals everywhere. The main frack chemicals can be found in higher concentrations in toothpaste, makeup or ice cream. One thing I suggest very strongly is that you test your water today before any drilling. You may find it far less pristine than you like to think it is - but just as eminently drinkable today as it would be in the future.

Shale gas, like everything in life, has plusses and minuses. The economic and health benefits of using gas to replace coal and to generate enough electricity to provide sustainable, low carbon and cheap power are a plus. Preventing someone like Princess Irene of the Netherlands from talking to trees on her quarterly visits to her Karoo paradise, is collateral damage that I would be happy to share.

Posted by Nick Grealy on 04 Aug 2011


What does concern us Karoo farmers is the lack of answers to our most pertinent questions, mostly dealing with water safety.

Why if this is such a safe method as toted by all oil companies will they not give us any guarantees on water safety? Mr Vegter does not live in the karoo if he did he would know just how ridiculous his statements on intimidation are, sorry Mr Vegter that does not happen here, please substantiate your wild allegations with fact!

The facts are we are not willing to take a chance on our life force on the off chance a big oil company might make a lot of money.

All the rest power generation job creation remain but a smoke screen once again for big oil profits and along with it I am convinced some lucrative backhanders.

Posted by Andrew Wallis on 04 Aug 2011


Response to Jonathan Deal:

1) You're the first South African I've encountered who uses the term 'kopje' in a contemporary context. Congratulations! As a fluent Afrikaans speaker I'm aware that 'koppie' can also mean 'small cup', but I've never encountered a situation where the meanings could be confused. I pointed out the journalist's (mis)use of the term to further emphasise the superficiality of the research that went into the piece.

2) As to Shell's statement re their fracking chemicals being 'biodegradable', I'm not sure why you dispute that this runs to the heart of the current controversy, which IMHO is whether fracking will significantly pollute underground water resources or not. 'Biodegradable' implies harmlessness; your group calls the chemicals, and the fracking process, potentially extremely harmful.

An additional point:

Unpublished research that I conducted about 5 years ago in the Little Karoo, around Oudtshoorn, indicated that a significant majority of foreign and local tourists valued the area primarily for its 'unspoiled' wilderness-like landscapes. This was more important to them than specific attractions e.g. the Cango Caves, ostrich farms, etc.

Because tourism by some measures makes up roughly half of the economic activity of the Karoo, this means that natural landscapes have enormous financial value to the area. Gas extraction infrastructure like wells, pipelines etc. will destroy this value, turning huge sections of the Karoo into an industrial area. (If you doubt this claim, please take a flight over any area where fracking has taken off in the U.S. The transformation of the landscape is astonishing.)

I'd like to see this point considered in greater depth, particularly by Ivo Vegter, who seems
ignorant of this part of the Karoo's economy.

Posted by Adam Welz on 04 Aug 2011


The French government has banned fracking,according to reports there are many municipalities in the US with bans/moratoria in place and in the last month the shale gas industry has been compared to a Ponzi scheme and now the SEC is apparently investigating them. And this for an industry that felt it necessary to get exemption from the US Federal Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. In Beaufort -West in the Karoo (South Africa) the town's boreholes are polluted with petrol from the local service stations - allegedly because of the specific geology of the area. South Africans are also concerned by reports of the extensive environmental damage in Nigeria. Fortunately South Africa has a constitution that protects the right to clean water - irrespective of your income. Not sure which sounds more unlikely: farmers threatening to burn down each other's farms or completely biodegradable fracking chemicals.
Posted by ad smit on 04 Aug 2011


There is one fundamental issue here....water. Generally 6.7 million liters of water may be used to frack a well. A well may be fracked up to 18 times. Approximately 24 wells are to be drilled in the Karoo... you do the math. It's water the Karoo (or South Africa) simply doesn't have. A few years ago the SA government implemented serious restrictions on golf course developments because of the amount of water they use. How is THIS development ok?

The Karoo is a barren, arid, drought-stricken area of South Africa with an extremely sensitive eco-system. It is still a beautiful and a relatively "untouched" part of South Africa. Beaufort West experienced one of their worst water shortages earlier this year. Please see http://www.capewatersolutions.co.za/2010/12/14/beaufort-west-water-crisis/

In the greater scheme of things, who lines their pockets? Who has the last laugh? When these oil and gas companies have drilled the Karoo into a Swiss-cheese like facade and sucked the area dry of both its water, oil and gas, what then? What happens to all the fantastic jobs they have created for the poor locals? And when we have to start trucking water up to Beaufort West again (as we did earlier this year), there won't be a oil company in sight because they'll be off raping some other African country.

I agree with Adam - our beautiful Karoo will end up looking like some industrial area! The drilling will stretch over 90 000 square kilometers!!

I appreciate that gas is a "cleaner" source of energy and that the wells will create jobs but these jobs have no longevity. Oil/Gas companies are not my favourite - lets not forget the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Generally the environment is second on their list of "what's important" with money and power being at the top of the list....




Posted by Vanessa Haywood on 04 Aug 2011


Even one example of water contamination is one too many. We cannot take that risk in the Karoo. There is already the example of a leak from petrol storage tanks many years ago near Beaufort West which has slowly seeped through cracks in the shale into underground water resources and are now coming up in boreholes many, many years after the leakage has been stopped. I grew up in the Karoo - the first rain I saw was as an 8-year-old child. The people who live there, know in the depths of their beings that NO risk to the scarce underground water resources can be tolerated.

The article misses out on a number of alternative options for the Karoo. The first is solar power - a far greater creator of jobs than fossil fuel (including shale gas which is not a 'clean' energy source) generated energy. The other is tourism, which is one of the big job creators for SA and worldwide. As relatively pristine spaces get scarcer, its value as a tourism destination will increase and so will the jobs - sustainable jobs.

There is also the cost and damage that a constant barrage of huge trucks will bring to the Karoo to bring in water and other supplies and to take out the gas. The true costs of fracking in the Karoo is just one of the things that Shell and other companies applying for fracking licenses are not being honest about.

They are also not honest about the scale of the environmental impact and cost of all the operations that would be involved in fracking.

Posted by Erina Botha on 05 Aug 2011


Call a spade a spade Mr Deal.

You have a vested interest in ecotourism and can hardly be called unbiased. Just like Mr Grealy, you are a paid spokesperson.

In return for funding (Johan Rupert anyone) you are touring the country on behalf of TKAG singing half-truths and scare- mongering. I have heard all about.

I would love seeing you participate in a real debate where rhetoric was out only facts allowed.

Posted by Isabella C. on 05 Aug 2011


Let us not forget that Fracking is in the best interests of the Fat Cats who will make the billions on the gas's sale. They do not care about anyone's lives. They come in, make false promises, leave with the money and leave the inhabitants to clean up their mess. Corrupt officials play a huge role. Bought media play a huge role. Stooges talk for hours and say nothing, but leave the audience confused for long enough to escape before being questioned. People like Nick Grealy need to put their money where their mouths are and build their houses near fracking sights. And then when they die from Cancer, see if any of the people they put their faith in come to your funeral. Why not use the Karoo's vast open land to harness wind energy? Wind energy does not require the FRACTURING of anything. How can anyone be happy with drilling 2.5km under the earth's surface to pump unnatural chemicals into it.

Where does the waste go? Into our water tables and into the sea? I dont live in the Karoo, or go there often, but I have been staggered by its beauty. It forms an awesome part of MY COUNTRY and under no circumstances should some foreigners come here to destroy it. It doesn't matter how much money they stand to make. Money is replaceable. Our planet is not.

To the author of the original article: It may not mean much to you, but you have no credibility in my eyes. You could have done a little more research before throwing your random thoughts into the ether. Why not do a report on the communities in Texas where fracking has been going on for a while?

Posted by Jim Peaceful on 07 Aug 2011


Dear Isabella C.

I receive not one cent of salary. My personal commitments will be as at the end of August in
excess of R360 000. My own land in the Karoo is far from the area that companies have applied to frack. Where do you live? Where does your water come from? I'll meet you or your choice of an opponent for a 'real' debate - anytime.

Regards, Jonathan.

Posted by Jonathan Deal on 10 Aug 2011


They use between three and eight chemicals per well, and never more than eight? That fracking fluid contains like 500+ different chemicals in it. And biodegradable they are not. They were using diesel fuel in the U.S. Unless they do business differently out there. I'll tell you one thing, whoever you people spoke with in Pennsylvania and New York, they were feeding you a bunch of lies. Here's a link to an investigation done by the NYT, and it's all based on gas industry, state & EPA reports released under the Freedom of Information Act, in the U.S. It's 5 pages long, and reads like a horror show and a nightmare all rolled up into one. After these gas-frackers get done in the U.S., half the country will be a toxic wasteland. And if you're looking for clean cheap energy, I'd look to Rossi's energy catalyzer, which has just been patented in Italy. This technology could change the world, but I doubt the oil / gas cronies will let it.

www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/27gas.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

Posted by Hemi on 28 Aug 2011


Really Mr Deal...not one cent? using the TKAG to plug your books don't count I guess..

"ORDER YOUR COPY OF TIMELESS KAROO or buy one for a friend - author signed and personalised - posted to your nearest post office.

Timeless Karoo, published by Struik, Written and photographed by Jonathan Deal is available from TKAG at R295.00 including post and packaging in SA. All profits on this book go to TKAG"

All profits, what about those royalties?

Posted by Isabella C on 30 Aug 2011


I am a retired Austrian executive now living in a rural area bordering the Karoo. I grew up in the mountainous rural area of Austria. The care of the environement was part of my upbringing. I want to do my part to preserve it for my grandchildrens.

I also experienced war and its aftermath with poverty and hunger

I worked for international corporations and I do understand their aims.

I own a farm in that region, regarded as the last remaining valley fynbos farm and I do have a financial interest in an agricultural intensively worked farm.

My concern is how to find a compromise. It is clear that the region does need urgently developments in order to create jobs. At the same time the beautiful Karoo mst not be made into an industrial wasteland.

I am convinced that here are solutions.

I will list the various interests.

1. Firstly the local rural people. They are the origional and rightful owners of the Karoo. We are just guests. Unemployment is estimated to be about 60%. There is no social net. If you do not have a job, you and your family starve. And they do.

2. Local farmers. They can only make a living from their farms if there is sufficient water for their livestock. Only a few farms have sufficient water for irrigation, Rainfall varies between 200 and 400mm (average 300mm) With the high evaporation at least 600mm is required (or600m3 = 600.000L/ha) for irrigations.

3. Tourism. An important, but somehow overplayed issue. Not more then 5% of all income and jobs are generated by it.

4. Rich indivituals such as the Rubert's as well as other urban environmentalists are important for preserving the Karoo. It is one of the most beautiful experiences spending a night under the Karoo sky. However, after having spend a wonderful weekend on their farms, they go back to their urban homes.

5. The oil companies. Fast reserved of shale are promising huge financial rewards. Their interest is short-term. For the executives, a good next annual report is the most important item in order to secure their annual bonus. Favourable environemental reports, as I do know from experience, can be bought.

6. The South African nation. Mining is the most important industry to secure jobs for the millions of unemployed.

7. ANC. The future of the party will depend on securing jobs for their voters. Environmental issues are long term problems and if possible should be passed on to the next generation of politicians.

The main issue is water usage and the environmental issues.

Water: I understand from the previous contributers that the following volume of water is required:

6.8m L / well each freaking
18 times each well to be freaked and for up to 24 wells. Total project to be over 5 years.

I made the following calculation for the total water requirements:

6.6m L = 6.800m3 of water x 18 times = 122.400m3 of water x 24 wells = 2.937.600m3 over a 5 year period or 587.520m3 / year

Area of exploration = 90,000km2

587.520m3 divided over an area of 90.000k2 = 6.628m3 (6.628L)water / km2 or 66.2L/ha
Average rainfall = 300mm or 300L/m2 or 30.000L/ha

Water requirement for the fraking expressed in mm of rainfall = 0.22mm. A one-off morning dew is producing about 2mm of water or 10X of the annual required water for exploration.

Water usage can not be an issue. It is absurd to make it an issue.

Environmental demage through drilling and transport is in my opinion the real issue. I do not have any facts on the transport requirements and can therefore not make any statements. However I strongly believe that all these issues can be legaly ring-fenced.

In my opinion, the locals should be made substantial shareholders in the exploration in order to secure for them a future.

The poor rural population of South Africa can not be made to suffer for providing pleasure to the urban middle and upper class.

Posted by Hans Moser on 16 Sep 2011


In response to Hans Moser - I think you have made some very good points, but I believe you misunderstand the water question. Your calculation is based on only 24 wells, which is just the exploration phase. If that was all there will be, then there would be no water question, as you say.

But the point is that the gas companies envisage well-pads (collections of up to about 30 wells each) at 5km spacing (say 30 wells per 25km2) for production purposes.

Even if only about 10% of that 90 000km2 is exploited, that still means about 10 000 wells, not just 24. And that is still only part of the story - there are several more areas just as big as that.

So we are really talking figures that are 400 to 1000 times as much as your nearly 3 million m3. Your 'rainfall' equivalent could well be 0.22mm x 400 = 88mm, or even 0.22mm x 1000 = 220mm.

In other words, the total annual rainfall will be insufficient in many areas.

Posted by Phillip Newmarch on 14 Oct 2011


Nick Grealy your statemet that shale is going forward in the Oz outback is incorrect as the majority of the methane extracted in Australia is Coal Bed Methane and not Shale Methane. This requires pumping saline water out of the coal seams with total direct solids (TDS) is many thousands of times more saline than sea water and is toxic to the environment. The water table is lowered, saline water entering ecosystems kills species and the rural public and agricultural sector do not support previous governments licensing rounds. Shale gas exploitation as practiced in the USA was exempt from most environmental regulation and the most thorough research to date is only available April 2012. The thoroughness of this report is questionable due to the restricted budget, time allocated and limited scope of report.
SA is not managing to remediate Acid Mine Drainage, rehabilitate diamond areas and waste management and water treatment infrastructure is under strain so please tell me how are environmental standards going to be regulated when expertise is not available and industry wants to reduce costs. Geothermal, solar, biogas, wind, waste incineration, landfill gas, solar water heating have a small environmental footprint and can put funds to community development without the external environmental cost being borne by taxpayers and the environment. South Africa is at a crossroads and the big east path is not sustainable. Fossil fuel will not alleviate poverty, intelligence will.

Oil & Niger Delta = polluted slum.
Niger& uranium=radioactive slums. Johannesburg& platinum, gold= poisoned water.
Botswana& diamond/Coal Bed Methane=Nomadic people no access to water. and evicted

Posted by Karel on 19 Dec 2011


Can Shell offer a program under which water supplies would be drilled and equipped? Seems like you could develop a likely socioeconomic mitigation package?

Posted by Grace on 16 Apr 2012


Can anyone tell where or which area fracking would take place? Is there any map or tool to find? How many people's livelyhoods are at stake in this process? Has there been any counter- proposal been published to create jobs and a new green based economy for the Karoo?

Many thanks for your input!

Richard Victor

Posted by Richard Victor on 08 Sep 2012


Comments have been closed on this feature.
todd pitockABOUT THE AUTHOR
Todd Pitock is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including Discover, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

 
 

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