I’ve recently written about the moratorium the South African government has imposed on hydraulic fracturing, the polluting and water-intense method to extract natural gas from underground layers of shale rock also referred to as fracking. While I was cautiously optimistic about this development, I also mentioned that the companies involved are unlikely to simply take it lying down.
Well, they’re not. Shell, the multinational oil and gas giant that wants to explore for shale gas in 90,000 square kilometers of the semi-arid Karoo region, has been distributing flyers at petrol stations that aim to convince South Africans that fracking is a good thing. A closer look reveals that it’s simply a case of corporate greenwashing — an attempt to present an environmentally hazardous practice as clean and beneficial.
Don’t trust Shell
The flyer, entitled Shell and the Karoo contains pictures of a happy family of locals, a beautiful Karoo landscape and what appears to be sparklingly clear swimming pool water. The text speaks emotively of Shell’s “commitments to the People of South Africa” and of the Karoo as “a special place” that “we must preserve […] for our future and our children’s future.” There is talk of not competing with local inhabitants for their water needs, global best practices and consultation with experts and citizen advisory groups.
The pamphlet is geared at convincing readers that Shell is a company that we can trust our country with, but even a cursory look at their past proves the contrary. Shell has a most atrocious and downright criminal environmental and human rights record, especially in Africa. They are repeat offenders that cannot be trusted.
Not listening to the people
The flyer also claims that Shell knows that “people are concerned,” which is why they are “involved in extensive consultations to ensure we listen and reflect those concerns in our exploration plans.” I went to one of these public consultations in Cape Town. Shell was roundly slated, discredited and essentially booed off the stage. By all accounts every other consultation, especially those held in the small towns of the Karoo itself, went pretty much the same way. Everywhere they went to listen to the people, Shell was told that their fracking plans were not wanted. Contrary to their claims, they didn’t listen to the people’s wishes, otherwise they wouldn’t be continuing to try to convince us of their good intentions.
Just another fossil fuel dead-end
Beyond the rather obvious public relations spin, the flyer also contains some more factual greenwashing. On several occasions, the Karoo’s natural gas potential is presented as a “plentiful,” “sustainable” and “stable, alternative energy source” that can “help secure South Africa’s energy future” by “reducing our dependence on coal.” All of which is rather fanciful since the extent of the potential shale gas reserves beneath the Karoo are entirely unknown as yet and there is no guarantee that any natural gas produced in the region would necessarily be made available to South Africans themselves. The only thing that is guaranteed is that Shell would stand to make very substantial financial profits.
The basic fact is that any shale gas from the Karoo would simply be another source of non-renewable fossil fuels, sure to run out sooner rather than later, and providing no long-term solution to either our current addiction to coal or our energy future. Far from reducing our dependence on coal, producing shale gas in the Karoo would continue to steer us down a fossil-fuelled dead-end and diminish our opportunities for exploiting the abundant, truly sustainable, clean, renewable energy solutions available in the region, in particular solar power.
No cleaner than coal
Finally, an actual lie. Shell’s flyer describes the gas to be produced in the Karoo as a “more environmentally friendly” option that is “40% more energy efficient” and “emits 50-70% less CO2 than coal.” Now while that may be the case for conventional natural gas, it’s simply not true for shale gas mined by hydraulic fracturing. Shell can hardly claim to be ignorant of recent studies that show that over its complete lifecycle, fracked shale gas releases as much CO2 as coal or substantially more.
The flyer is little more than an underhanded attempt at presenting fracking in South Africa as something that it is not and its contents should be rejected with contempt. Let’s hope that those who read it understand that Shell is trying to hoodwink them.
Andreas is a book shop manager and freelance writer in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
Photo from: Stock.Xchng