Several international and local oil and gas companies are hunting for shale gas, a form of natural gas, in South Africa. If they find it, they propose to extract it using a controversial technology called hydraulic fracturing or fracking which threatens to cause extensive environmental damage, pollution of precious drinking water and human health problems.
They have to be stopped!
Those of you who live in the USA may already be more familiar with fracking and its devastating impacts than you’d like to be. If it’s all news to you, watch Josh Fox’s brilliant, Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland. And don’t think you can afford to be complacent if you don’t live in the States – onshore natural gas fracking is a growing trend worldwide. It might just hit your own backyard before you know it.
Here’s how it works: a well is drilled into underground layers of so-called gas shale. Water is then injected into the well at high pressure. This causes the rock to shatter, liberating natural gas that is trapped in countless tiny bubbles and allowing it to escape towards the surface.
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” I hear you say. But there are several major problems:
• Together with the water, sand and a cocktail of chemicals is injected into the ground. Many of the chemicals used are toxic, environmentally harmful and known to cause cancer and other health problems. Only about half of this concoction returns to the surface, while the rest remains underground. Numerous instances in which groundwater aquifers have been contaminated by chemicals derived from fracking fluids as well as hazardous constituents of natural gas have been documented throughout the USA.
• Huge quantities of water – millions of litres at a time – are used during the fracking process. Each well may be fracked several times and each gas field may contain thousands of wells.
• Air pollution, massive increases in heavy truck traffic, open wastewater pits and a network of drilling rigs, refineries and pipelines cause major environmental impacts.
• Research has shown that when its entire lifecycle is taken into consideration, natural gas produced by fracking has a carbon footprint similar to or substantially larger than that of dirty coal.
If the South African government gives the go-ahead, Shell and other companies plan to initiate fracking operations on tens of thousands of square kilometres of land, much of it in the magically beautiful, but severely water-stressed and ecologically sensitive Karoo region.
Knowing that their scarce water resources – quite literally their lifeblood – is in jeopardy and that their ability to farm, their health, their ancestral land and their way of life is under threat, the vast majority of the affected region’s inhabitants are bitterly opposed to fracking as are many other concerned South African’s.
Take Action: You can support their efforts to stop these extremely dangerous and short-sighted proposals by signing our petition against fracking in South Africa. Lend us your voice to help stop this madness!
Photo Credit: Andreas Späth
By Andreas Späth