Earthlife Africa slams Karoo fracking

2011-05-30 14:34
Muna Lakhani of Earthlife Africa has slammed suggestions that fracking was good for SA. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Muna Lakhani of Earthlife Africa has slammed suggestions that fracking was good for SA. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Environmental organisations have reacted strongly to comments by a Cape Town professor that hydraulic fracturing in the Karoo would not have a significant impact on the environment.

Shell and other companies have applied to exploit shale gas reserves in the Karoo and on Sunday, Professor Phillip Lloyd of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology said that would create hundreds of thousands of jobs and not impact the ground water negatively in the region.

"There are studies that have been done that confirm that the life cycle impact of fracking are potentially greater than that of coal" Muna Lakhani, Cape Town branch co-ordinator for Earthlife Africa told News24.

According to the Cornell University study cited by Lakhani, methane is a more dangerous greenhouse gas (GHG) than carbon dioxide.


"Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential that is far greater than that of carbon dioxide, particularly over the time horizon of the first few decades following emission.

"Methane contributes substantially to the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas on shorter time scales, dominating it on a 20-year time horizon," the study says.

Lakhani urged caution of shale gas exploitation, saying that there was little evidence that the process was safe.

"Earthlife Africa's position is actually quite simple: There is ample scientific evidence to confirm water pollution and the point that the water is at a shallower level than the gas is of indeed more concern both because of the potential break in integrity in the fracking cement lining and from the actual escape of the fracking water."

Fracking uses several chemicals to fracture the rock, and the process has been placed under moratorium in France and there are ongoing cases in the US.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said in a statement that shale gas in SA was unnecessary because the country should instead focus on renewable energy projects.


"We do not need unconventional gas to meet growing energy demand in South Africa, as we have far more immediately viable and sustainable energy development options than shale gas.

"Scenarios for energy supply, both nationally and globally, consistent with strong economic growth, indicate the imperative for not utilising the full extent of fossil fuel reserves already established, but rather prioritising the use of renewable energy resources," said the organisation.

Greenpeace also rejected fracking as an energy solution, and urged the government to commit to renewable energy.

"Shale gas exploitation is invasive and unsustainable. Exploration of shale gas should be put on hold until the environmental impacts [water consumption, water pollution] can be resolved.

"Rather than wasting time and money on another potential dead end, while jeopardising our scarce water resources, we should focus on truly clean, renewable energy solutions," Greenpeace climate and energy campaign team leader, Dr Rianne Teule told News24 in an e-mailed statement.

According to the Cornell University study, the GHG footprint of shale gas may be higher than conventional gas.

"The GHG footprint of shale gas has received little study or scrutiny, although many have voiced concern. The National Research Council (2009) noted emissions from shale-gas extraction may be greater than from conventional gas," the study says.

"They use anything up to 800 different chemicals in the fracking water so the publicity says 'Oh it's only 1% or 2%' but they forget to tell you that they're using millions of litres so 2% of a million litres is an awfully large amount of chemicals," Lakhani said.

He added that the health of the surrounding community may also be affected by the pollution generated by the fracking activity.


"The health impacts are of significant concern. Because of the air pollution from the methane escaping from the well. There're various pollutants, not just methane.

"These are toxic highly volatile organic compounds [VOC] and the ones that have been measured are benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and various xylenes.

"These are highly toxic so we're looking at carcinogenic material and radioactive material being released in the process."

Lloyd said that the extraction of shale gas would not affect ground water because of the layers of steel and cement casings, but Lakhani rejected this.

"The simple truth is that nothing that we do is perfect. It's just an opinion rather than scientific fact."

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    greenpeace  |  earthlife africa  |  wwf  |  energy  |  environment  |  fracking

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