Shell's fracking adverts being investigated, says group

The Advertising Standards Authority is investigating whether Royal Dutch Shell advertisements about hydraulic fracturing are misleading and untruthful, the Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG) said on Wednesday.

Shell had run the full-page advertisements in national weekly newspapers and had distributed flyers at its service stations, TKAG national coordinator Jonathan Deal said in a statement.

This happened after the Cabinet declared a moratorium on all applications for licences to conduct hydraulic fracturing in the exploration of shale gas reserves in the Karoo.

Fracturing, also known as fracking, involves pumping a high pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the shale bed to break apart underground shale rock and extract the gas.

In a live debate with Deal in Cape Town, Shell South Africa Energy’s chairperson and vice-president Bonang Mohale said there had never been “a single case of groundwater contamination resulting from fracturing”.

“This is clearly not the truth,” Deal said.

He said Shell claimed on its website that: “The fluids injected into the rock consist of more than 99% water and sand, with a small amount of additives similar to those found in household products.”

‘SA has been misled’
In its advertisement, Shell said: “We also commit to disclosing fracturing fluids at each drilling location.”

However, in the public debate, Shell would not reveal what those chemicals were, Deal said.

“The violations of environmental regulations by Shell, the self-proclaimed market leader in hydraulic fracturing, are a matter of fact,” he said.

“... No reasonable person can possibly argue that hydraulic fracturing is safe and poses no risk to the environment.

“Shell has been economical with the truth. South Africa has been misled.”

Shell on Wednesday said it was “unfortunate and misleading” for the TKAG to only highlight selective information provided and describe this as the company being “economic with the truth”.

“Shell has endeavoured to provide detailed information on our proposed gas exploration project in the Karoo in order to assist the citizens of South Africa to better understand our plans,” the company said in a statement.

“In our Environmental Management Plan (EMP), a public document submitted to the Petroleum Agency South Africa (PASA)...
we provide extensive information on the development of unconventional gas resources, including hydraulic fracturing, the potential environmental impacts and mitigation measures.”

‘Responsible development’
Shell “recognised” that the EMP did not provide all the answers but if it was granted exploration licences, it would not drill until complete environmental impact assessments were done.

“Consultation with stakeholders” would be the “cornerstone” of Shell’s approach to its activities in the Karoo, it said.

“Both Shell and TKAG have South Africa’s best interests at heart and we remain committed to continue a dialogue on the potential development of unconventional gas resources with all parties.”

Proposals have been made by Shell, Falcon Oil and Bundu Oil and Gas to explore shale gas deposits in the Karoo.

However, after pressure from environmentalists, farmers, scientists and citizens, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu placed a freeze on applications for rights to explore for shale gas until her department has formulated a policy.

The company on Wednesday said it respected the South African government’s decision to impose the moratorium and supported the decision to conduct studies on hydraulic fracturing.

“We believe the government should involve a wide range of parties and experts in these studies to ensure that the country reaches a balanced decision on whether shale gas resources can be responsibly developed and whether natural gas should play a more significant role in the country’s energy mix.”

Many argued that fracking would impact negatively on ground water and surface water resources in the Karoo.

Last month, French legislators voted to ban fracking and while a study published in the United States found no sign that fracking chemicals were polluting its water supply, it found evidence that gas had leaked from shale wells into drinking water.—AFP

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