A watchdog with strong bite

Treasured: The Karoo landscape could be irrevocably changed if fracking went ahead

Treasured: The Karoo landscape could be irrevocably changed if fracking went ahead

Not-for-profit organisations award Winner: Treasure Karoo Action Group

The debate about the controversy and showing what could happen if it was allowed to go ahead.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves the injection of a mixture of chemicals and water into deep shale rock formations to extract gas. Shell and other energy companies have applied for exploration rights across more than 230000km2 of the Karoo.

Jonathan Deal, chairperson of the non-profit organisation Treasure the Karoo Action Group, says fracking threatens to pollute scarce groundwater reserves in the semi-desert area and the government should apply the precautionary principle before granting any mining rights.

Pressure from his and other environmental lobby groups forced the government’s hand in placing a moratorium on fracking last year and setting up a task team to investigate shale gas extraction. The final report is due in July.

“We oppose fracking until it is proven that this is the best answer to South Africa’s energy and employment needs,” Deal said.

“We are urging the government to refocus on renewable energy sources, which are often forgotten in the rush to mine shale gas.”

The group was launched in January last year and is staffed mainly by volunteers.
Through research, media releases, brochures and comics it has publicised the controversies surrounding fracking.

“I do lots of presentations at schools and warn the children that they will pay for their parents’ bad decisions, so they must get involved now,” said Deal.

He cannot fathom why the government is chasing fossil fuel: “Saudi Arabia is oil-rich, yet it is moving to renewables. South Africa’s solar irradiation levels are 2.5 times higher than Saudi Arabia’s. Along with Brazil, South Africa has the best us-able sunshine in the world, especially in the Northern and Western Cape.”

Deal, now semi-retired, owns a farm in the Karoo, although it is not near the areas that could be affected by fracking. His love for this arid landscape can be seen in his photographs in a coffee-table book titled Timeless Karoo.

The Treasure Karoo Action Group has developed on the back of volunteer efforts. Initially self-funded by a core group, it is now increasingly supported by public donations.

“The environmental fight is long, lonely and costly,” Deal said. “But had we not begun this campaign, international giants would already be exploiting this resource in spite of not fully understanding the technology or its impacts.”

The Greening judges said, even if the group did not succeed in stopping fracking, it had helped to make sure it would happen in a more responsible way.

“This kind of campaigning civil-society watchdog is exactly what South Africa needs right now. With the national planning commission leaning towards fracking, we could be heading for an interesting showdown,” they said.

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