Saturday, March 26, 2011

“Shell fractures the truth”

“Shell fractures the truth”
Friday, 25 March 2011, Cape Town—Environmentalist and "human polar bear" Lewis Pugh took on the oil companies, including Dutch oil giant Shell, over their plan to prospect for shale gas in the Karoo using a controversial drilling method called hydraulic fracturing (fracking). 

Environmental campaigner Lewis Pugh challenged Shell today (Friday) at a public hearing (at Kelvin Grove in Cape Town) about its plans to prospect for oil in the Karoo, saying that its actions will contribute to global warming and climate change. He called on the public to make their voice heard by emailing their MPs and the chairman of the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (PASA).

Dutch oil corporation Shell wants to prospect for gas in the shale rock that lies beneath the Karoo Basin using a potentially dangerous drilling method called hydraulic fracturing. Fracking will deplete the scarce water resources of the Karoo and lead to contamination of the groundwater table. 

Basically, a drill is sunk, passing through the water table and down into the shale rock. Then they drill horizontally into the shale. When the drilling is complete, millions of litres of water mixed with a toxic compound of chemicals is forced down the hole. The pressure fractures the shale, releasing the trapped gas. More than 30% to 40% of the chemical-laden water mix remains below the surface. The rest is pumped out and has to be disposed of as hazardous waste.

The Karoo is a pristine and fragile ecosphere. Shell wants to drill across an area of 90 000 sq km. Shell claims that fracking is safe and that they will take every precaution to ensure that the water table—the Karoo's life blood—will not be affected. "Why should we trust Shell?" asked Pugh, referring to Shell's appalling track record in Nigeria where it has spilt more than 9-million barrels of oil in the Niger Delta—twice as much oil as BP spilt in the Gulf of Mexico. "The Karoo is to Shell what the Gulf of Mexico is to BP," says Pugh.

Shell states that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that fracking does not pose a danger to the environment. However, the earlier decision of the EPA has been successfully challenged and is now under review by the US Science Advisory Board (SAB). All fracking activity in New York state and 160 other locations across the USA have been suspended pending the SAB report.

Shell claims fracking will not contaminate the water table. Yet, the company could not explain why the corporations involved—including Shell—want fracking exempted from the regulations of the Federal US Safe Drinking Water Act, an Act aimed at protecting aquifers?

Shell claims that fracking is a tried and tested technology and is being used throughout the world. However, they cannot explain why the technological process has failed in the past and caused serious problems to the aquifers in areas where it has been employed. Shell's answer that the other companies made mistakes implies that it won't make mistakes.

Yet, Shell's 2010 Annual Report states: "We operate in environments where the most advanced technologies are needed. While these technologies are regarded as safe for the environment with today’s knowledge, there is always the possibility of unknown or unforeseeable environmental impacts." So, by its own admission Shell could face a situation while fracking where the groundwater is contaminated. Shell was asked if, in such an event, what it could do about it? As was pointed out, you can't exactly flush contamination out of an aquifer?

The companies involved with fracking in the USA refuse to disclose exactly what chemicals are mixed with the water. Shell has said it will reveal the chemical contents it will use in South Africa. The question is, however, allow independent scientific bodies to verify the contents?

Pugh said that the Dutch oil giant's actions were a threat to the Constitution of South Africa—which enshrines the principles of conserving our environment not just today but for our children's children—and was immoral because it showed complete disregard for the people of the Karoo and their livelihoods.

Shell's claim that it would provide work for the people of the Karoo is disingenuous says Pugh. The shale gas will be depleted within five to 15 years. Then Shell will simply pack up and leave. If Shell really wanted to help the people of the Karoo it would invest some of its considerable profits—Shell's turnover in 2010 was a phenomenal $20.5-billion, up more than 60% on 2009—in creating sustainable energy resources. Such business would employ people for generations, not just a few years. 

Pugh said South Africans had fought and died for their dream of a Constitution to become a reality. "There are many here among us who do not want the dreams of our heroes to be rubbished by an amoral corporate giant. There are many here among us who do not want this—our hard-fought Constitution—treated as mere scrawls on a piece of paper."

[ABOUT TKAG – Treasure the Karoo Action group has emerged as the co-ordinating body, representative of a broad range of stakeholders who are concerned with the plans of Oil and Mining companies to extract shale gas from the Karoo basin. Popular support can be followed and joined on Facebook and <> ]


Issued by HWB Communications (Pty) Ltd on behalf of the Treasure the Karoo Action Group. For more information please contact:

Jonathan Deal

National Coordinator – TKAG

Tel: 076 838 5150



Martin Slabbert 

HWB Communications Pty Ltd

Tel: 021 462 0416/ 079 500 1503


1 comment:

  1. The damage, in a fragile ecosystem, like the Karoo, will be permanent. We should NOT let this happen