‘Now is the time for change! We cannot drill our way out of an energy crisis! The age of fossil fuels is over! Shell, we do not want our Karoo to be another Niger Delta,’ a brave speaker addressed Shell with a referral to the egregious exploitation of Nigeria’s oil reserves by multinationals such as Shell.
‘Use your voices my friends; blog, tweet, Facebook and rally your petition!’
Armed with an array of appetizing appeasements, a team of geologists from Shell, held their required participation presentations in Newlands, Cape Town on the 25th March. These meetings are required under the National Environmental Management Act of 1998 that allows for all interested and affected parties to raise their opinions with regards to any environmental venture.
Against a team of no less than a hundred protestors, Shell was struck by the angry voices of the people hoping to make a difference.
The Royal Dutch Shell Group, commonly known as Shell, had applied to the Petroleum Agency of South Africa for exploration rights of the rare natural gas stored in the underground shale formations in the Great Karoo. The purpose for Shell’s exploration activities is to investigate the viability of mining in the separate three sites of 30,000 square kilometers each.
Is it all worth it?
The collaboration between Shell and South Africa has potential to provide employment and revenue for the country. Shell claims that the natural shale gas that will be harnessed from the land will be in aid of the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals that aims to lift the people out of poverty and ‘provide access to safe, clean modern energy for all South Africans.’
This statement lies in direct contrast with the fact that the mining will last a total of only nine years or until the shale gas resource expires.
However, there are many other factors to be considered in this debate:
- Exploration mining involves drilling a probe at least 5km deep probe into the land. This enhances the permeability of the underlying rock layers and has many contra-indications such as potential spillages from machinery that could contaminate the soil and surface water and the drilling could lower the water table levels.
- Not only is the exploration process potentially dangerous, but the mining itself utilizes hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking), which in simple terms uses water drilling as the method of mining. South Africa is a water scarce country with an average rainfall of about 424mm per year. This is almost half of the global average; an alarming fact to consider since hydraulic fracturing utilizes up to 4.5 million litres of water per well. The Shell representatives clearly stated that they intend obtaining the rights to 24 wells.
- The fracking process is also extremely taxing on the landscape and ecosystems. The Great Karoo is the largest ecosystem in South Africa, home to a variety of succulent plants and animal life, including the Black Rhino and the Cape Mountain Zebra.
- Aside from the biological implications, mining is an ugly and noisy operation that will disrupt all life around it even for years after the process has been completed.
The Environmental Management Plan is a 26 paged summary report, freely handed out at all the participation events (not on recycled paper) and provides a clear picture on the environmental process for the exploration of the shale gas, including its environmental impacts.
There is, however, little mention of the various negative social and economic implications for our country and no rehabilitative measures are laid out for the periods after the mining.
See also the National Environmental Management Act.
Your vote counts! Stop Shell from exploiting our land.
By Naseema Elias