Let me make it clear from the off, I am not a qualified engineer or chemist but a layman who reads as widely as possible in order to arrive at an opinion. I am also pragmatic and can be swayed to change my views in the light of new, more reliable information and evidence. What follows is my current assessment of fracking but I remain open to counter arguments.
The South African government appears to have caved in to pressure by international energy companies (been bribed) to permit hydraulic fracking to exploit claimed huge reserves of natural gas under the Karoo. Claims are made about the benefits of exploiting the resource including the the creation of many thousands of jobs in a sparsely populated area principally used for agriculture and sheep farming in particular. The area is very arid with little rainfall so farmers and local communities are dependent upon underground water which is found throughout the area and which can be tapped by boreholes.
According the Wikipedia:
“Hydraulic fracturing is the fracturing of rock by a pressurized liquid. Some hydraulic fractures form naturally—certain veins or dikes are examples. Induced hydraulic fracturing is a mining technique in which a high-pressure liquid fluid (usually water mixed with sand and chemicals) is injected to a well bore in order to create small fractures (usually less than 1.0 mm wide) in the deep-rock formations in order to allow natural gas, petroleum, and brine to migrate to the well. When the hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, small grains of hydraulic fracturing proppants (either sand or aluminium oxide) hold open the small fractures once the deep rock achieves geologic equilibrium. “
If I understand that correctly, it involves drilling a deep bore hole and then pumping, under enormous pressure, large amounts of water laced with a cocktail of chemicals (the fracking companies are coy about revealing what chemicals) and sand into the hole to crack rock and release stores of gas, petroleum and brine. They are going to drill these holes and pump the chemicals deep underground through the Karoo aquifers.
Man, that sets off some big alarm bells for me.
So where will the fracking water come from?
Surely the fracking companies cannot be allowed to exploit the existing scarce ground water resources for the process? This is a finite resource accumulated over millions of years. The farms and the local towns that are dependent upon it. And if they are not permitted to use that water then are they going to carry out the mad idea I heard suggested to pump sea water into the Karoo for fracking. WTF is going to happen to all that chemically polluted sea water when they have finished with it. Dump it underground? Pump it back into the Indian ocean?
How can fracking not pollute the groundwater?
The Earth's crust is not stable but subject to thermal convection as heat rises from the interior. Then there are Earth movements. View the Karoo with Google Earth and display earthquake data. Like everywhere else, the Karoo is subject to earth movements and earthquakes. Inevitably the chemicals pumped underground (and the sea water?), the released gases and petroleum products are going to come into contact with and pollute the aquifers. There can be no escaping the fact that fracking will pollute the Karoo ground water. And when the fracking companies have exhausted the resource and the politicians they have bribed have long disappeared the country and future generations will suffer the consequences.
One only has to see what has happened in the Witwatersrand gold fields for the precedent. An undermined area, supported by millions of rotting wooden pit props immersed in ever increasing and rising levels of acid polluted ground water, peppered with abandoned and open mine shafts, toxic slimes dams and dumps. The companies who exploited the resource and made their fortunes have long since gone and the current and future inhabitants have been left to deal with the ecological time bomb that has been left behind.
How many jobs will really be created?
Fracking is a mechanised, not labour intensive process. Sure some jobs will be created directly at the wells and then there will be some transport, provisioning and engineering supply jobs. The resultant gas is not going to be supplied at less than World going rates just as Sasol supplies petrol at World going rates.
I just cannot see the benefits of investing billions to exploit this resource when such billions could otherwise be invested in alternative and more environmentally friendly methods of providing energy and in other, more productive, job creation activities.
Here are some links about the impact of fracking. Whether they are based on emotion or facts, on balance there is no doubt that that fracking does have huge environmental impacts and that the energy companies are are not coming clean about it.
Texas is fracked: More than 30 towns will soon be out of water
Frackers kill endangered US fish
A must view and very concerning documentary on the impact of frackign the the USA
The scary thing is that our venal politicians will willingly accept the energy companies' silver and could not give a stuff about environment for some claimed short term gain.
Now tell me why I am wrong.