Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cape Town Public meeting between Shell/Golder and public, 25 March 2011

After listening to arguments about fracking for the last month, I am sick and tired of the pros and cons reasoning, bargaining, etc.

We have heard enough about water issues, water contamination, infrastructure issues, chemical issues, morality, site selection, gas usage, energy needs, etc. I have had enough.

It is clear as day that WE DO NOT WANT FRACKING TO TAKE PLACE IN THE KAROO, full stop.

It is time that we stop bargaining, and wasting time chatting, especially in the light of PASA’s comments. We don’t want fracking to go ahead.

At the public meeting on 25 March 2011 in Cape Town, the Chairman of Shell South Africa, Bonang Francis Mohale, stood in front of a room full of hundreds, and publicly stated that “if a community does not want us to go ahead, we will not frack there”. It seems very clear that the Karoo community has spoken, and does not want fracking. Will Shell now follow through on this promise by stopping this exploration process?

Shell has publicly admitted that they cannot guarantee well integrity. They maintain that they work to the highest level of quality, but they cannot 100% guarantee that, and I understand their position.

What I am saying and I believe what we all should be saying is the following:
Forget about all the issues, even if Shell miraculously manages to satisfy all of our demands, the Karoo is a Special and Extremely sensitive eco system, and quite simply put, if there is any water contamination, or loss of well integrity, or well bore, the Karoo, or at least that area of the Karoo will not be able to recover, FULL STOP, it is as simple as that, forget all the arguments.

The risk of damaging the Karoo irreparably is just too great, even if the chance is one in 700 000, that is why I am saying NO FRACKING IN OUR KAROO, stop bargaining. The risk is too great. Look at the rest of the world, that are only now waking up to the problems of fracking, and many municipalities, states, etc… are now busy banning and placing moratoriums on fracking. We have a chance to ban it BEFORE it causes any damage, let us do it.

I find it extremely worrying that PASA is effectively lobbying for fracking in front of parliament, through Jennifer Marot, senior geologist at PASA, as this proves that they are not the impartial regulatory body they are supposed to be. Also of concern about PASA, as stated by DA shadow environmental minister Gareth Morgan: “This small agency, with a miniscule staff and possessing a budget which, by its own admission, will not see it adequately through the next two years, is not in a position to make a considered decision on applications that to date cover a landmass of SA in excess of 200,000 square kilometers.”

PASA is too small and underfunded to handle a project of this magnitude. They have shown themselves not to be an unbiased regulatory agency. They are not waiting to review the EMP and the EIA. Before these studies and documents have even been completed, Jennifer Marot is now going before Parliament to lobby for fracking.

Furthermore, in the words of Mr. Anthony L. Cortis, Shell Upstream International Exploration, China, if you look at some of the publicized spills and explosions that happened in Pennsylvania, the affected areas were cleaned up, “seeded over” and will be completely restored in 6 years. The problem here is that you cannot simply just seed Karoo bossies, they take years and years to develop and grow, the Karoo is a Semi Desert, it is not Pennsylvania. It is an extremely hard eco-system to “restore”.

The other issue that I have is that they cannot make the claim of “completely restored to its former state” because there is not enough known about the after effects of hydraulic fracturing at this point in time, or of the underground migration of gasses after fracking has taken place.

I would like to address three of Shell’s commitments, given to us, the public:

Shell will provide full compensation to any landowner with evidenced direct negative impact or loss on their land as a result of our activities.

I love the wording “evidenced direct impact”. At the meeting Shell committed to keeping control of all operations, before, during and after drilling, but as we have seen all over the world, in most cases, the onus is on the land owner to actually prove that damage was done, and when he does prove it, after many years of fighting, and very expensive legal costs, the company just runs around and says that they have done everything to regulation and best practice, so they are sorry, but they complied with the laws concerning gas drilling, so the contamination is not their problem. It is the complete lack of accountability that concerns me; there are countless cases I can mention.

We will conserve and recycle water where ever possible.

Fracking is water intensive; that is a fact. South Africa does not have the capacity to recycle water that comes from fracking operations, fact. The US is struggling with recycling water that is rich in Uranium 226, fact.

Fracking wastewater also contains salts, heavy metals and radioactive material (radium 226 [a derivative of uranium], strontium and barium) from drilling through radon-bearing granite and other layers deep underground. The levels of radiation in frackwater are thousands of times the safe level limit for drinking water. There are reports of people and animals dying in the USA as a direct consequence of fracking contamination.

My question to Shell, how EXACTLY do you propose to recycle water from your operations?

We commit to disclose fracturing fluids at each drilling location, and consult with communities as part of the development of hydraulic fracturing plans.

When, we want a date, will the public be getting the complete list of chemicals that could be used in fracking operations? We want it now, not later. If Shell is so open, why do we have to wait for it?

Also, it has come to the fore that the actual fracking operations will be sub contracted to fracking companies. Who will these companies be? We want their names! Will they be coming from abroad? They will have to, as there are no fracking experts in SA, and no fracking companies in SA, which means already that some of the operations are proposed to be out-sourced, but most important, what is the safety record of these companies?

And in closing, I would like to simply state this:

Shell is promising transparency and integrity, as a responsible corporate citizen. Dr. Adam Dodson, Shell Exploration Manager – Unconventional Oil & Gas New Venture, was introduced at the beginning of the Cape Town meeting on 25 March, but toward the end of the meeting, when there were questions for him, he was nowhere to be found. This reflects very poorly on Shell and I personally feel that it is an insult to all of us who sat there until after 21:00, waiting to be heard, and wanting to ask relevant and important questions.
Dr. Dodson’s behavior, is very worrying as it reflects the tendency of big oil companies to cut and run, once THEY feel the meeting (drilling/operations) is over, and not once the public feels they are satisfied. Is this what we are going to be left with?

Willem Avenant
Author of
Member of TKAG (Treasure the Karoo Action Group),

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