Farmers, landowners and community members in the Karoo are bolstering their opposition to applications by energy companies Shell, Bundu and Falcon to explore for shale gas, a non-renewable form of energy, in 95 000km2 in the Karoo.
Shell is the largest applicant and has submitted three applications which extend over 90 000km2.
The exploration and mining method they intend using is a highly invasive, water-intensive and potentially toxic process called fracking.
A key collective initiative has been born in the Karoo’s pioneering town of Graaff-Reinet where attorney Derek Light is spearheading the legal opposition against Shell, Bundu and Falcon on behalf of hundreds of Karoo farmers, landowners and community members.
Adding to the growing public opposition to fracking and any other forms of invasive mining in the Karoo is an action group that was formed this month, called the Treasure the Karoo Action Group or (TKAG).
“TKAG is a co-ordinating body representing a broad range of stakeholders who are concerned with the plans of oil and mining companies to extract shale gas from the Karoo basin,” says TKAG spokesperson and Karoo landowner Jonathan Deal.
“Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is under fierce government scrutiny in the US and has been banned by at least 160 communities in that country,” he said.
TKAG issued a press release this week calling on all the current applicants to withdraw their applications for licences to pursue shale gas mining in the Karoo.
“We further call on the Ministers of Water and Environmental Affairs and other ministries including Public Works and Tourism to become urgently and publicly involved in this issue of critical environmental importance, on the basis that the effects of fracking have the potential to permanently damage the Karoo environment.”
The process of fracking is not regulated in South Africa and has never been used in this country before, the statement said.
Explaining, attorney Light said: “The available information on fracking indicates that it is a highly invasive process with a high risk of contamination of the environment and, in particular to underground water and air, it necessitates the use of large volumes of water for the drilling process and substantial quantities of water in the fracking process.
“It also involves the use of sand and highly toxic chemicals,” Light added.
“Apart from the exploitation of water reserves, the potential contamination of water reserves and the air by the process, there are other environmental risks associated with (it).
“Hundreds of trucks would visit a site for the drilling of one well and the initial fracturing process.
“The trucks need to convey kilometres of piping, drilling rigs, fuel, equipment, personnel, large quantities of fracking fluids and millions and millions of litres of water.
“The dust pollution, noise pollution and impact on our roads systems would have to be considered as extreme.”
The environmental threat that fracking poses to the entire Karoo is contrary to the Bill of Rights, as contained in Chapter 2 of the constitution, the group said.
If shale gas is exploited, the environment will be “permanently altered”, as there will literally be thousands of wells jutting out over the vast exploration areas in the Karoo, the statement said.
Shell and Golder Associates (the company appointed by Shell to conduct its public participation process and compile its Environmental Management Programme) have publicly stated that fracking poses no risk to the environment