Alan Bannister

May 2016

There’s madness in the way we go about our business in this world of ours. It’s often a mad rush into danger without any thought of assessing the risk of doing something.

Take fracking, the process of extracting natural gas from underground. In areas like Pennsylvania in the USA where fracking has made some landowners multi-millionaires almost overnight, health hazards are overwhelming the communities involved.

Now, notwithstanding the contrary evidence from around the world about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), South Africa has decided to continue with investigations into its viability in the environmentally fragile Karoo.

No one knows just how much gas we have underground here in South Africa, but we already know of the health hazards fracking does bring to the surface. Against this, the worsening South African economy creates pressure to get as much shale oil and gas out of the ground.

Around two to eight million gallons of water may be used to frack a well. Some wells consume much more. A well may be fracked multiple times, with each frack increasing the chances of chemical leakage into the soil and local water sources.

Now, we are informed that research conducted into waterless fracking can be successful, but results are varied.

See: oilprice.com. There are no specific timelines when this research could bring the answer.

Meanwhile, fracking requires millions of gallons of water, combined with a cocktail of around one hundred chemicals to “fracture” the rocks to release the gas. In a water-constrained country like ours, where there is not enough water in our rivers and dams to spare, fracking makes even less sense. Read all about water pollution caused by fracking at www.sourcewatch.org, which can send your head into a spin.

Are our politicians short-sightedly obsessed with the images of oil and gas “flowing” out of fracked wells with the attendant dollar signs? Has there been any delegation to countries that are fracking and those that have either stopped doing it or just never started?

France has banned fracking while Germany has a freeze on their decision. However unlikely it seems to this ex-Brit, the UK task force says shale gas fracking should go ahead. I shook my head until I realised the UK’s shale gas industry funds the task force, which we are assured works independently.   Really?

In the USA, where fracking started over 60 years ago, the operation has had a mixed success rate. But, so great was the push to get away from their dependency on Middle East oil, the Americans rushed headlong into an uncontrolled environment that owed much to a lack of planning and even more to the lack of controls in living the dream of removing oil imports.

There was little control exerted over the oil companies, not only while wells were developed, but also when the wells closed. Communities in the vicinity of the wells were not as lucky. Often, pollution occurred when chemicals leaked into groundwater supplies, caused by some unexpected accidents. These leakages led to severe health problems, which continue to this day. The aftermath of drilling often left scars of decaying plant and equipment and leaking pipes.

Recently, minor earthquakes where fracking has occurred, have added to the fear of local populations. Drilling, in many cases, was not subject to the necessary checks and balances.

Enter now countries wanting their share of the bonanza of oil and gas beneath their lands. Little wonder that local authorities and states are questioning this seemingly reckless leap into a technology that has left such a poor legacy wherever it has been put in.

It is worth your while to trace the history of fracking before making an educated decision on whether you favour the technology or not.

Shale gas can boost the economy and create jobs, but South Africa has started late and one wonders whether the costs are, as in a nuclear power project, going to be limiting.

Check The Guardian newspaper in the UK, which runs one of the best environmental sections I have come across. Try out the link www.theguardian.com.

If you are upset about what fracking could do to the pristine Karoo, you will do well to support the Treasure Karoo Action Group at www.treasurethekaroo.co.za.

Good luck with your research.