Saturday, 22 September 2012

Fracking: Down a dead-end one way road

22 September 2012 - Many studies have shown the dangers associated with fracking, and unconventional fracking is under ban or moratorium in more than a 140 places around the world.  Over 250 communities in the U.S. have passed resolutions to stop fracking, and Vermont, France and Bulgaria have already stopped it.

From the US Environmental Protection Agency to the EU, there are concerns. On the day that South Africa’s moratorium on hydraulic gas fracturing was lifted, the EU reported that ‘extracting shale gas generally imposes a larger environmental footprint than conventional gas development. Risks of surface and ground water contamination, water resource depletion … are deemed to be high in the case of multiple projects’.  South Africa’s own study which informed the lifting of the moratorium says nothing about the depletion and decline in profile of fracking wells. The experience is that fracked wells have their peak production in the first year or two and it is downhill thereafter. Few wells go longer than eight years. So, producers have to keep drilling new sites to maintain output which means that vast areas of land will need to be cleared for the extension of these sites.

The fracking process is very water-intensive where a mixture of water, sand and chemicals, are injected underground at high pressure to fracture the rock around a gas well. This then releases the gas from the rock. The impacts are environmental and beyond.

The areas earmarked for fracking are predominantly agricultural and the clearing of land that should be used for generating food being used for gas extraction, is unethical. The amounts of toxic waste and heavy machinery that will be imported into these sparsely populated communities are disturbing.

The contribution to air and water pollution, the health impacts, the contribution to climate change and the devaluation of land are some of the threats that this process imposes.

Seismic impacts have been reported in some parts of the world where gas fracturing is said to cause earth tremors. In a country like South Africa, where this is a foreign phenomenon, it will not sit well with the citizens.

The usual motivation for such developments is the contribution to the economy of the area. Job creation! The socio-economic impacts of such developments are something we have recently witnessed in Lephalale, Waterberg in the province of Limpopo, South Africa.  These range from an influx of outside male workers, increase in prostitution, non-employment of local workers due to lack of skills, sharp hike in property prices, overcrowding and general decline in infrastructure from sewage, to roads and water access which cannot meet the sudden demand.

Considering the crumbling state of environmental governance in South Africa, the government cannot guarantee that they will be able to regulate this process. They are failing to manage industrial pollution in air quality priority areas so there is no hope that the Karoo or any other area in South Africa will be protected.

Government does not have the courage to go against convention.  We can choose improved public transport systems and rail so we cut down on liquid fuels.  We can choose to work on energy efficiency and correct pricing for energy to the rich corporations but we chose not to.  Like in south Durban, the Vaal, the Highveld and Lephalale, a struggle against gas fracking has the potential to bring community people of all backgrounds together.  In this struggle for a better life for all, as we collectively challenge fracking, let us find a collective struggle to share our wealth and resources so that people do not ever have to be faced with poverty versus the environmental injustice of false fossil wealth.