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Karoo Fracking – What You Need to Know


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 –


Alternative Options?

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.
2500 trucks.
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

Read more: - recent news article - a further look at the facts - a group concerned with the environmental impact of fracking - an alternative view on fracking and why less reproduction might be the final answer.


Images: Prince  , Fracking Diagram: , Fracking Infographic: , Solar Diagram:

11 thoughts on “Karoo Fracking – What You Need to Know”

  • Danie Williams

    Hokaai....negative marketing is NOT cool. I am all for solar power and green earth - have just installed 8 water tanks at my home totalling 25 500 litres of water (rain catchment) and is looking for solar lights as well - but if you publish such rubbish about fracking - I willl shop somwhere realistic it is not too much to ask. Yes I am A Safety, Health Environment professional, and yes I work in the oil indsutry - so I know!!!

    • Bridget

      Hi there

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment on our site. Although we have heard and do understand the arguments for fracking, as an advocate for alternative energy cannot condone fracking as a method of extracting natural gas when we have more sustainable solutions available, such as solar. Our blog is also our space to voice our opinion and to share information – whether positive, negative or anything in between. Our article on fracking was not intended as a marketing ploy or to offend those who are pro-fracking; the topic is of real concern to us. We welcome your opinion and those of everyone else on our blog, as these issues do need to be discussed openly.

      We are happy to hear that you are investing in water tanks and solar lights, whether from us or somewhere else.

  • Laura Malloy


    I would like to know how to get permission to use a copy of the graphic you have on your site that describes the fracking process ( the one with well head, shale layers, water table, aquifer, etc.). It is similar to the pro-publica graphic but does not specify the shale depth. We would like to use the graphic in our town's comprehensive plan. We are a tiny town -2,400 people - in upstate New York, U.S.A. and don't have a budget for royalties on the graphic but would be happy to include a citation and acknowledgement if we could get such a permission in writing.
    Thank You for considering this,
    Laura Malloy
    Mt. Vision - Town of Laurens, NY USA 13810

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  • David Johnson

    Thanks for including the link to my article which you've described as an alternative view. I've actually written something more recently which I think might be a better fit for this website. Originally in Afrikaans in By, you can read it in English here:

  • Esmarie van der Merwe 11084244
    Esmarie van der Merwe 11084244 April 19, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    Thank you for posting this article it was very informative. It is great that there are still people more concerned about the environment than their financial gains. I personally am against fracking in the Karoo. Relatives of mine own large pieces of land in the Karoo district. I always enjoy visiting the Karoo, a semi–arid wilderness, for its fresh air and untouched natural beauty. Fracking will be extremely harmful to the environment, the farmers of the Karoo as well as their crops and livestock. Seeing that the Kalahari Desert lies just north of the Karoo, water shortages is a reality that the community struggle with every day. Every single drop of rain is treasured and if this becomes acid rain due to methane gas that is released, as mentioned in the article, the farmers will fear the thing they love most. Groundwater supplies are relied on by land owners to survive and to generate income. When the proses of fracking begin the main water supply is taken away and farmers will lose their livestock and crops creating food shortages throughout the rest of the country, influencing the economy directly. On one of our farms a foreign company contracted the building of wind turbines. Personally I think that the government should invest more in this renewable energy source in the Karoo district.
    Esmarie van der Merwe 11084244

  • Marinda

    I do understand that fracing in the Karoo will be harmful in a way, but are there no safeguards to minimize the effects thereof? Especially because of the huge energy problem in South Africa?

  • Janinda

    I did a project for geology at the university where we studied all the different aspects of fracking. We could only find a few safeguards that can be implemented in order to minimize the effects of fracking. These safeguards include: Making sure that all drills and wells are as far away from houses as possible in order to minimize sound pollution and to decrease the negative effects on human health; To make sure that they dispose of waste water in a safe and environmentally friendly matter in order to reduce toxic materials; By putting extremely dry areas completely off limits to fracking which definitely excludes the Karoo!! After doing a complete study on fracking, we as upcoming geologists came to the conclusion that fracking in the Karoo would be more harmful than positive and thus we are strongly against it.

  • Neil

    Do we know what areas will be specifically effected by the fracking?

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