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learning about biodiversity

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Whats cracking with fracking?

enshrined in our Constitution, is the Right to a Healthy Environment and the Right to Water. Our Constitution states that we have the Right to have our environment protected for the benefit of our generation and for the benefit of future generations. Fellow South Africans, let us not dishonour these rights. Let us not dishonour those men and women who fought and died for these rights. Let us not allow corporate greed to disrespect our Constitution and desecrate our environment. Never, ever did I think that there would be a debate in this arid country about which was more important - gas or water. We can survive without gas. We cannot live without water. Lewis Gordon Pugh the human polar bear.

responsible for allowing fracking to go ahead. Will they be able to resist the lucrative short-term gain or will they be able to see the dangers involved? What action is being taken? There are always two sides to an argument it is said. The groundswell of opinion seems to be against fracking and many influential people and groups, such as WWF, have condemned it. An action group called the Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG) was formed by community members and landowners. TKAG issued a press release calling on all the current applicants to withdraw their applications for licenses to pursue shale gas mining in the Karoo on the basis that the effects of fracking have the potential to permanently damage the Karoo environment. A Facebook group called Chase SHELL OIL out of the Karoo! has also been created. By the end of February 2011 several thousand people also signed the Stop Fracking in the Karoo page on Thepetitionsite.com. Gasland, an Oscar-nominated documentary about fracking, highlights the terrible aftermath that the messy gas drilling technique is having in the United States of America. The film begins and ends in Dimock, a rural area of Susquenhanna County, where methane starts to spill out of kitchen sinks and catch fire after Cabot Oil & Gas Co. start drilling wells nearby. The director of the film, Josh Fox, then begins his search to discover what shale gas drilling in America is doing to the environment and what unexpected consequences the technique may have on people. They have a good website to visit at http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/whats-fracking. Is fracking relevant to the National Curriculum Statement? Yes, it is particularly relevant to the Learning Area Human influences on the environment which makes up 50% of Paper 2 in Grade 11. Many of the are based on local issues about the negative impact of human activities on the environment. These questions will usually be in the form of case studies or data-response questions. An essay will also be required and the question of fracking may be a good subject to investigate. A well-balanced and informed starting point would be to visit WWFs website http://www.wwf.org.za/ and on their homepage click on WWF-SAs position on fracking.

A typical Karoo scene. Photo: C. Voget.

Shale gas is natural gas, which is almost entirely methane. It is a potent greenhouse gas which exacerbates climate change. It is odourless and colourless and can be extracted from some shale deposits. (Shale is a sedimentary rock composed of mud and clay which can, over millions of years, trap pockets of methane between the layers of rock.) Although natural gas, when burned, produces about half of the carbon dioxide emissions of coal, that calculation omits greenhouse gas emissions from the extraction methods that include well-drilling, water-trucking, pipeline-laying and forest-felling that are part and parcel of hydraulically fractured natural gas. Where do we find shale gas in South Africa? There is potential to extract shale gas in the Karoo in 270-millionyear-old geological formations some five kilometres underground. Farmers and residents are very concerned about the extraction method, which is called hydraulic fracturing or fracking. During the extraction of shale gas, deep drilling is used to penetrate the ground until shale rock is struck. Chemicals, water and sand are blasted into the holes, fracturing the shale and releasing the trapped gas from it. The potential for large-scale contamination of the environment, especially of ground water, is high. Most of the chemicals used in fracking are toxic and carcinogenic and corporates prefer not to reveal some of the others that are used in the mix saying these are proprietary secrets. There are many other damaging side effects too like the effect of the drilling on the surface and the footprint of the heavy duty trucks. Who is involved? Oil and gas companies want exploration licenses to search for shale gas in the Karoo. Shell, Sasol, Anglo American, Falcon Oil and Gas, and Bundu Gas and Oil Exploration, are among those eyeing shale gas. The Petroleum Agency South Africa (PASA) awarded Royal Dutch Shell a TCP (Technical Co-operation Permit) for a one-year study to determine the hydrocarbon potential in parts of the Karoo Basin in 2009. In 2010, the company secured a permit to explore for shale gas over 185 000 km in the Karoo. Who has the right to allow fracking? According to South African law, the residents in the Karoo own their land but not the minerals beneath it. Our politicians are ultimately
74 VELD&FLORA | JUNE 2011

A thought on fracking from WWF


The exploitation of shale gas would present a barrier to achieving a truly sustainable energy supply and the opportunities and benefits of a just transition to renewable energy. It would accelerate the ongoing decline in the energy return on energy invested in fossil fuels and divert investment away from better options with far greater public benefits. (www.wwf.org.za.)