Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG), an organisation established to promote the environmentally sustainable development of the Karoo, on Tuesday submitted its written objection to energy giant Shell’s application to use hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) in its search for shale gas in South Africa.
The group also urged government to put an “immediate end” to not only Shell’s application, but also to decline any future fracking exploration in the Karoo.
The written objection, which has been served to the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (Pasa) and Shell, is a 104-page critical review of the energy group’s draft environmental management plan (EMP) for its proposed Karoo shale gas project and its proposal to use hydraulic fracturing technology.
Fracking involves the injection of a liquid chemical mixture contained in vast quantities of water into deep boreholes to create pressure to cause fracturing of rocks, which will determine the potential of the shale gas reserves.
Speaking at a press conference in Cape Town, TKAG director Dr Luke Havemann said that the common thread running through the written objection was that Shell’s EMP contained insufficient information for government to make an informed decision on the application.
The main concerns highlighted in the document included Shell’s vagueness about the source of the water required for fracking in a water-stressed region of the country, as well as the potentially severe adverse health effects on both people and ecosystems resulting from possible contamination of surface water and groundwater, given the use of potentially toxic and hazardous chemicals and the fundamental dependence of lives and livelihoods on water.
Concern was also raised about the fact that moratoria in a significant number of developed countries, including the UK, Canada, France, and some states within the US, have been placed on fracking, pending the undertaking of further studies.
Significantly, Havemann stated that there was a concern over the lack of alignment of Shell’s application with a number of constitutional and national environmental management provisions, including the right to ecologically sustainable development and inter-generational equity.
Environmental activist Lewis Pugh noted that Shell’s application to start hydraulic fracturing in the Karoo was unconstitutional.
“I find it very difficult to foresee a situation whereby Shell’s application can go through and stand up to our constitution.”
It was also stated that Shell’s proposal to exploit shale gas reserves had not been weighed up against those of the renewable energy sector, which had more long-term environmentally sustainable benefits for the country.
The document was compiled by Dr Havemann of Cape Town-based law firm Havemann Inc, which specialises in energy affairs, Prof Jan Glazewski of the Institute of Marine and Environmental Law at the University of Cape Town and environmental consultant Susie Brownlie.
They drew on input received from 22 scientists from a range of disciplines varying from public health, economics and biodiversity to paleontology and astronomy.
TKAG national spokesperson Jonathan Deal pointed out that Shell was not the only applicant interested in exploiting the Karoo’s shale gas resources.
Deal said that there were many companies eyeing the Karoo so TKAG’s ultimate objective was to stop the technology of hydraulic fracturing from being used in South Africa.
Consequently, TKAG urged government to place a long-term moratorium on fracking until all the risks and potential consequences, particularly with respect to water resources and public health, had been investigated in both an international and national context.
Havemann added that this was essential since there was neither a national policy in place to define fracking, nor was there capacity at present to enforce compliance with any of the conditions of approval.
TKAG said it was prepared to take the issue to the Constitutional Court and was similarly prepared to lobby every shareholder of the Shell group to prevent fracking in the Karoo.