Karoo Fracking – What You Need to Know
This entry was posted on October 1, 2013.
It has been just over a year that the moratorium on fracking has been lifted. The debate on whether fracking in the Karoo should be allowed has recently gained new attention with government elections set to take place next year.
Rob Davies, the trade and industry minister, agreed last month that the exploration of shale gas in the Karoo in Western Cape Province should start before the general election.
This decision has been met with strict opposition from environmental campaigners who are ready to fight the battle in court. Since fracking has to do with energy creation, it will have an effect on most South Africans, directly or indirectly. It’s therefore important to know the facts:
What is Fracking?
Fracking refers to hydraulic fracturing – a process where a high-pressure fluid mixture is released into drilled channels in the earth to increase fractures in rocks. These fractures release gas and oil. The fluid mixture consists of water, sand and chemicals. As these fractures increase in size, more gas and oil flows into the wellbore from which it is extracted. The process is used to either create new pathways to release gas or to expand existing channels.
Why is the Government Pro-fracking?
- Energy solution. The government is promoting natural gas extraction as the solution to South Africa's energy crisis.
- Less dependence on coal. The government recognise coal’s drawbacks – it is a limited resource and the process whereby it is translated into electricity has a much greater negative impact on the environment than natural gas.
- Job creation. Multiple positions will be created to develop and sustain the fracking business.
- Massive revenue. It is estimated that there are untapped volumes of gas large enough to produce a significant income from exporting gas.
Why the Opposition to Fracking?
- Water shortage. Fracking requires plenty of water and since the targeted area is the Karoo, water is already a scarcity. According to the Treasure Karoo Action Group, fracking requires approximately 20 million litres of fresh water to frack one well. Each pad can have up to 32 wells.
- Water contamination. During the fracking process there is the risk of the fluid used during the process, chemical spills or cracked well casings polluting the groundwater, the main source of water for the Karoo towns. Furthermore, the water flowing back to surface is toxic and poses a problem to get rid of.
- Methane surfacing. There are concerns that this gas can come to the surface once the shale has been fractured. Methane poses very high global warming potential - 25 times that of CO2 over a 100 year period, causing concerns about whether natural gas is really better than coal in the long run.
- Unique underground structure. The Karoo has plenty of underground water channels, posing risks not faced by sites operating in the US.
- Earthquake speculation. The effect of these tremors could mean damage to the protective casing around the wells, making leakage possible.
- Health risks. Natural gas production raises health concerns developed through polluted water, ground and air which range from mild infections to cancer.
- Job Loss. The tourism, energy and agricultural sectors will is predicted to all see a negative effect on jobs should fracking be put in place. The case for job creation known as the ‘Econometrix model’ claims up to 704,000 employment opportunities can be created though fracking, yet this study was funded by Shell, enabling it to be biased.
- Lack of consensus. Internationally, there have been no definite answers as to what the economic benefits and environmental impact of fracking has been and should therefore cause serious concern for being blindly accepted in the Karoo. One area which has, however, seen definite negative effects of fracking is Philadelphia where the success of the fracking plants soon came to an end – http://bit.ly/1eIlSJZ.
With plenty of resources, solar, wind and wave energy is recommended as long-term solutions to South Africa’s energy problem. Solar energy has especially been coming to the forefront as a viable option since being supported by cost reductions in Photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing and solar system installations. In general, however, there is much room for improvement as renewable energy sources seem to still be greatly underutilised. As with fracking, these pose their own list of pro’s and cons but a also the possibility of being less harmful than the fracking process.
More fracking facts:
1 Well: 20 Million litres of water.
32 wells on a pad.
10 pads in a development.
Many developments in SA.
52% of the Karoo.
More than 20% of SA.
France has banned it.
Many US cities don’t want it.
IS Fracking the answer for SA?
Source: Treasure Karoo Action Group
In Texas, which now has about 93,000 natural-gas wells, a hospital system in six counties with some of the heaviest drilling said in 2010 that it found a 25 percent asthma rate for young children, more than three times the state rate of about 7 percent.
A well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often mixed with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground.
Of more than 179 wells producing wastewater with high levels of radiation, at least 116 reported levels of radium or other radioactive materials 100 times as high as the levels set by federal drinking-water standards. At least 15 wells produced wastewater carrying more than 1,000 times the amount of radioactive elements considered acceptable.
Source: New York Times
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/23/south-africa-fracking-karoo - recent news article
http://www.groundup.org.za/content/fracking-what-are-facts - a further look at the facts
http://www.treasurethekaroo.co.za/fracking-facts - a group concerned with the environmental impact of fracking
http://www.toomuchtoomany.co.za/blog/2013/5/6/when-should-we-start-fracking-in-the-karoo - an alternative view on fracking and why less reproduction might be the final answer.
Images: Prince Albert:www.southafrica.net , Fracking Diagram: www.frackfreesomerset.org , Fracking Infographic: http://www.behance.net/gallery/Fracking-Infographics/7131817 , Solar Diagram: blog.appliedmaterials.com