South Africa and fracking

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In 2009, Petroleum Agency South Africa granted permission to Shell to conduct an assessment of shale gas resources in the Karoo Basin -- an arid region spanning 800 miles between Johannesburg and Cape Town. In December 2010, Shell submitted three separate exploration license applications for areas of around 30,000 square kilometers each, in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape provinces of South Africa.[1]

In response, local residents expressed concerns about the risks and costs of drilling and fracking for shale gas. In April 2011, South Africa’s cabinet established a moratorium on shale gas exploration in the Karoo Basin to allow time for a government study of the impacts of fracking.[2]

On November 11, 2011 the National Planning Commission, an advisory body to the South African government, released its National Development Plan (NDP). In addressing energy, the NDP recommended enabling “exploratory drilling to identify economically recoverable coal seam and shale gas reserves, while environmental investigations will continue to ascertain whether sustainable exploitation of these resources is possible.” The NDP called for shale gas development and investment in shale gas electricity generation to be “fast tracked,” provided that “environmental concerns are alleviated.”[3]

On September 7, 2012, South Africa announced an end to its moratorium on fracking.[4]

Environmental impacts

Karoo Fracking - Model for fluid migration

According to geologist Gerrit van Tonder, fracking in Karoo will eventually contaminate the groundwater supply, whether due to well casing failures or upward migration of fluids from faults and fractures. South Africa department of water affairs figures indicate that of the 50-odd towns, villages, and settlements falling within Shell’s concession in Karoo, 37 rely entirely on groundwater, 10 use a combination of ground and surface water, and only three use surface water alone; hundreds of thousands of people depend on clean groundwater.[5]

Martin Bell, the water manager for Shell’s Karoo project, said the company planned to recycle as much wastewater as possible, storing it temporarily in closed containers. Drilling waste, which could be especially toxic because the area is high in uranium deposits, will be shipped to disposal plants by pipes or by rail. Water needed for fracking may be brought in by rail from the coast, or drawn from aquifers far below the ones that supply water for farmers.[6]

Social impacts

Shell says the drilling will create needed employment and an alternative to the country's reliance on coal. But there remains concerns about benefits for local citizens. In South Africa and many other countries looking to shale gas drilling, the minerals under a property are more often owned by governments, not individuals, negating royalties. Farmers have expressed frustration by the lack of information from Shell officials about the chemicals they would inject into the ground during fracking.[6]

After local residents expressed concerns about the risks and costs of drilling and fracking for shale gas, South Africa’s cabinet established a moratorium on shale gas exploration in the Karoo Basin in April 2011, to allow time for a government study of the impacts of fracking.[7] On September 7, 2012, South Africa announced an end to its moratorium on fracking.[8]

Regulations

In October 2013 the government published draft fracking regulations for public comment.[9]

Shell and the ANC

In December 2011, the NY Times reported that Shell and several other large energy companies were hoping to drill thousands of natural gas wells in South Africa's Karoo Basin. Shell’s plan is to drill at least six exploratory wells over the next three years, and if the gas reserves appear profitable, it will start drilling with at least 1,500 wells several years later.[6]

According to David Ross of the Democratic Alliance (DA), the African National Congress (ANC)-linked Batho Batho Trust has a 51% stake in Thebe Investments (Shell South Africa’s local empowerment partner). Through Thebe, the Batho Batho Trust effectively has a 12% stake in Shell SA Refining, and a 14% stake in Shell SA Marketing. The Batho Batho Trust was established 20 years ago by ANC members with a view to supporting socio-economic development in South Africa, but the Trust now provides donations to the ANC.[10]

U.S. Role in South Africa Fracking

The U.S. State Department’s Global Shale Gas Initiative, begun in 2010, has been advising many foreign countries on fracking, organizing six trips that year for foreign officials to meet with American energy experts and visit drilling sites in the United States. The Web site for the initiative says that its primary goals are “to achieve greater energy security, meet environmental objectives and further U.S. economic and commercial interests.” The Export-Import Bank of the United States has financed some of the world's biggest gas projects over the last several years.[6]

Citizen activism

In May 2013 South African anti-fracking activist Jonathan Deal called for a global alliance against fracking. In 2013 Deal was awarded a Goldman Environmental Prize for his successful grassroots effort to win a moratorium on fracking in South Africa.[11]

Resources

References

  1. Shell, “The Karoo Basin,” accessed April 2012.
  2. Agbroko, Ruona. “S. Africa imposes ‘fracking’ moratorium in Karoo.” Reuters. April 21, 2011.
  3. National Planning Commission. “National Development Plan, Vision for 2030.” ISBN: 978-0-621-40475-3 RP270/2011. November 11, 2011.
  4. Sabrina Artel, "South Africa Lifts Fracking Moratorium; Citizens Alarmed By U.S. Fracking Examples," AlterNet, Sep. 24, 2012.
  5. Julienne du Toit, "Confessions of a fracking defector," Daily Maverick, June 15, 2012.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Kristi Pretorius, "Hunt for Gas Hits Fragile Soil, and South Africans Fear Risks," The New York Times, Dec. 30, 2011.
  7. Agbroko, Ruona. “S. Africa imposes ‘fracking’ moratorium in Karoo.” Reuters. April 21, 2011.
  8. Sabrina Artel, "South Africa Lifts Fracking Moratorium; Citizens Alarmed By U.S. Fracking Examples," AlterNet, Sep. 24, 2012.
  9. Paul Burkhardt, "South Africa Seen Facing Legal Battle Over Fracking Rules," Bloomberg, Oct 16, 2013.
  10. Sabrina Artel, "South Africa Lifts Fracking Moratorium; Citizens Alarmed By U.S. Fracking Examples," AlterNet, Sep. 24, 2012.
  11. "South African Anti-Fracking Activist Calls for Global Alliance" Sandra Postel, National Geographic, May 13, 2013.

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