I am sure all thinking South Africans are as shocked as I am by the Cabinet's decision to green-light fracking, writes Michael MacCarthy.
(“Shale gas energises government ”, September 14) Shocked, but perhaps not surprised. The only thing transparent about the technical task-team process has been the shameless way in which the cards were stacked to deliver the right outcome for the business relationship between Royal Dutch Shell, the ANC-affiliated Batho Batho Trust and Thebe. And, not for the first time, the ruling party has chosen to line its pockets at the expense of the future water and food security of the populace.
Here are some basic facts to consider about fracking:
- South Africa is a water-impoverished country. Even without the impact of fracking, it will be facing a water crisis where demand exceeds supply by 2025 at the latest. To an ever-increasing degree we will come to depend on our aquifers for our drinking water and the water to grow our crops and sustain our livestock.
- A single well, fracked only once, requires between 7.5-million and 45million litres of water. In the United States it has been shown repeatedly that the volume of water demanded by the fracking industry creates an artificial drought situation for the agricultural industry.
- Once that water is used in the well, it becomes toxic waste. In other words, it is lost forever to human consumption and agriculture. So, unlike natural droughts that at some point come to a natural end, fracking-induced droughts – because they deplete and contaminate aquifers – are permanent and irreversible.
- Although the oil industry will argue otherwise, there is empirical proof – from studies done in Pennsylvania and Wyoming – that fracking contaminates groundwater aquifers. Given the critical importance of aquifers in our future, this is an evil we simply cannot afford.
- A single horizontal well, according to a study by the Pacific Institute, requires a total of 1979 one-way “loaded-vehicle trips”; 1148 of those being heavy trucks with a gross vehicle weight of 11800kg and 831 of those being light trucks with a gross vehicle weight of 6350kg. The cost of creating and maintaining new roads to accommodate such heavy vehicles is going to be sizeable, with taxpayers, not oil companies, expected to foot the bill. But even more sizeable is the negative economic impact that the atmospheric, noise and chemical pollution caused by the trucks will have on crop and livestock farming.
- The claim that fracking will create thousands of jobs is a chimera. It is a high-tech industry serviced by a relative handful of skilled personnel, most of whom will be foreigners. What is far more likely is that it will create drought-like conditions for our agricultural industry that, in turn, will lead to thousands of farmworkers losing their jobs. The 1991-1992 drought, for example, led to a loss of 49 000 agricultural jobs and 20 000 formal-sector jobs. The result will be socioeconomic unrest that will make Marikana look like a minor event.
- Fracking is a 15-year wonder. After that, the oil companies and their ANC cronies will walk away with the money, leaving us to face the permanent and irreversible damage to our country and our society.
- Finally, as several recent news articles have pointed out, this country has no need of the gas that fracking supplies. We have easy access to increasing supplies of natural gas from the offshore wells along our coastlines. – Michael MacCarthy, Ramsgate