Fracking in the Karoo

On 25 April 2011, in News, by Andrew Bennett

It is not too late! Shell is currently applying for exploration licences in the Karoo and has said that it will include public concerns in the environmental management report.  Herewith some info from Greenpeace

What’s the Issue?

Three oil companies, Royal Dutch Shell, Falcon Oil & Gas, and Bundu Oil & Gas are eyeing the exploration of natural gas trapped in the underground shale formations in the Karoo. Shell recently applied for exploration licences for an area of 90,000 square kilometres – roughly three times the size of Lesotho.

Local communities in the Karoo are angry and concerned. Angry because they have no say about what happens to the minerals below their land. And seriously concerned because of the damaging environmental effects of shale gas exploitation.

What is ‘fracking’?

Hydraulic fracturing, also called “fracking”, is part of the process to exploit shale gas reserves which are ‘locked’ in underground rock formations.

To access these reserves, fluid is pumped down a drilled channel (well) into the gas-bearing rock at very high pressures. This causes the rock to fracture, creating fissures and cracks through which the gas can ‘escape’. The fracturing liquid generally consists of mainly water, mixed with sand and chemicals. Numerous different chemical agents are used, many of which are flagged as dangerous to humans and the environment (carcinogens, acute toxins).

The fracturing of a single well requires a huge volume of water: around 9,000 – 29,000 m3 (9 -29 million litres). Chemicals make up about 2% of the fracturing liquid, i.e. about 180,000 – 580,000 litres. 15 – 80% of the injected fluid is recovered, meaning that the rest remains underground, where it is a source of contamination to water aquifers.

The lifetime of a shale gas extraction well is limited to 5-8 years, as the productivity declines drastically over the first 5 years.

What are the main concerns?

Shale gas extraction poses a threat to ground and surface water. The fracking process brings a significant risk of contamination of these valuable water resources. This pollution can affect drinking water, as well as rivers and wetlands, threatening human health and the environment.

Secondly, fracking uses huge volumes of water. Given that many parts of South Africa already experienced water shortages, the prospect of further stressing water supplies could pose serious problems at a local and regional level. Can we really afford to waste vast amounts of water in a water scarce area such as the Karoo?

What do we want?

Shale gas exploitation is invasive and unsustainable. Exploration of shale gas should be put on hold until the environmental impacts can be resolved. Rather than wasting time and money on another potential dead end, while jeopardising our scarce water resources, we should focus on truly clean, renewable energy solutions.


Moratorium Placed on Fracking

By Ruona Agbroko – Reuters

JOHANNESBURG, April 21 (Reuters) – South Africa’s cabinet placed a moratorium on Thursday on oil and gas exploration licenses in the semi-arid Karoo region, where the controversial shale extraction technique of “fracking” might be deployed. The Karoo is a vast and ecologically sensitive region that is high on the radar screen of conservationists.

“Cabinet has endorsed the decision by the department of minerals to invoke a moratorium on licenses in the Karoo, where fracking is proposed,” the government said in a statement. Petrochemical group Sasol (SOLJ.J), Anglo American (AAL.L) and Falcon Oil and Gas (FO.V) are among those eyeing shale gas in the region. Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) is leading the pack with exploration rights to 90,000sq km (34,750 sq miles).

“We have noted the South African cabinet’s endorsement of the decision of the department of minerals, and we will seek clarity from the department on the full implications,” a Shell spokesperson told Reuters.

Karoo farmers and conservationists are concerned about the possible impact of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” in which drillers blast millions of litres of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into underground rock to create cracks for gas and oil to escape.

“The department made a decision a while back, and cabinet has endorsed the decision,” cabinet spokesperson Jimmy Manyi said.

He told Reuters the department of minerals and resources (DMR) would lead a task team to explore the implications of fracking, which would include the departments of trade and industry as well as science and technology.

“The multi-departmental task team is going to make sure that all angles are covered in terms of government getting proper information about the implication of fracking,” he said. Manyi did not give a timeline for when the research would be concluded but said the moratorium would remain in place until “there is conclusive evidence that there will be no unintended consequences on the environment“.

Applications already submitted will have to wait. “There will be nothing that will be approved until the research is carried out, concluded and pronounced on,” Manyi said.

The Karoo region, home to rare species such as the mountain zebra and riverine rabbit, may hold vast deposits of natural gas in shale rock deep underground. Once unobtainable, such reserves can now be exploited with fracking and could serve as a badly needed energy source for Africa’s largest economy, which relies heavily on coal.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also currently studying the impacts of fracking on drinking water. Initial results are scheduled for release in 2012.

(Editing by Ed Stoddard and Jane Baird)


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