Setting aside the various possible environmental implications, Karoo residents fear that Shell's shale gas plans will go hand in hand with an invasion of thousands of water trucks and further deterioration of the region's already vulnerable roads.
"Should Shell be given the go-ahead to drill for gas, the company will have to import the water it needs. Shell has clearly stated it will not compete with us residents over local water," said Jonathan Deal, the co-ordinator of the Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG).
"The problem is that we have no rail network, which means the water has to be imported with trucks," he explained. "Can you imagine what potentially thousands of water trucks will do to our roads, of which many are already in bad shape? Will Shell come fix them up first? Will they fix them afterwards?"
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is the method that Shell will use if the authorities approve of its plans to drill 24 exploratory shale gas wells in the Karoo, requires hundreds of thousands of litres of water mixed with sand and chemicals.
According to Shell's upstream communications manager, Kim Bye Bruun, a single vertical shale gas well will require between 300,000 and 900,000 litres of water. "One horizontal well will use between 1.1 million and six million litres," he explained. "This is a once-off amount."
The total number of trucks needed to transport this volume of water will depend on the type of vehicle. Should Shell opt for 20,000-litre trucks, 300 vehicles will be needed for one single six-million-litre horizontal well. This figure increases when smaller trucks are utilised.
"A full logistical assessment of the number and type of trucks required for the exploration phase has been undertaken. Details will be provided in the environmental management plan, which will be submitted to the authorities this month," Bye Bruun added.
The environmental management plan forms part of Shell's official application to explore the Karoo for shale gas, which has been submitted to the Petroleum Agency of SA (Pasa).
The action group's main objection to Shell's plans remains of an environmental nature.
"A thousand cases of fracking water spills have been recorded in the US alone," Deal said. "There have been at least seven cases of large-scale drinking water contamination. We do not want that in the Karoo. We already have a water shortage. We do not want our scarce water resources to be threatened by pollution. I have been told by farmers that they are willing to take up arms to protect their land."