Fracking on our doorstep

2014-06-09 00:00

LIONS Bush Conservancy (LBC) is justifiably concerned about fracking, as we all should be. The LBC committee put together the following information gleaned from an SABC2 programme aired during March.

Hydraulic fracturing (termed fracking for short) to release gas from shale beds is a real possibility in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

All of Lions Bush Conservancy has underlying shale beds of the Karoo geological system. However, it is possible that fracking may not be viable in our area due to the presence of dolerite dykes that cross the area.

The LBC committee is hoping in the near future to have some clarity on this by having a geologist give a presentation to members.

Consquence of fracking

The SABC2’s programme on March 3 featured an interview with a journalist who has been investigating fracking overseas for a number of years. He stated that one of the consequences of fracking is the contamination of the ground water with gas and hazardous chemicals.

These pollutants can also enter the streams and rivers of the area, and cause sickness. As most of the conservancy’s members rely on either groundwater or the streams and rivers of the area, any contamination could have negative consequences.

As fracking is believed to create large number of jobs and the gas extracted could have enormous economic benefit for the country, the current government is more than likely to go ahead with fracking. With the mineral resources of the country in the hands of the government, landowners will have no say in the implementation of fracking.

Water testing

The journalist mentioned above recommends that a landowner should have his water source (if sourced from groundwater or streams) chemically tested before any exploration for fracking starts and obtain a certificate detailing the results. Should fracking occur and the landowner’s water is contaminated, this certificate can be used to verify the fact that contamination has occurred and the extent thereof. Hopefully then damages can be claimed (see insurance issues at the end of the article).

Judy Bell, chairperson of the Midlands Conservancy Forum, has put together a proposal to the Water Research Commission for a project to create a data base of freshwater sources in the area. This would assist landowners with the costs associated with water testing as these can be quite high. An extract from the proposal reads: “The Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal is considered an area worthy of hydraulic fracturing for extraction of shale gas (fracking) as shown in the following map. Prospecting licences have been issued and the Midlands landowners and other residents have requested an assessment is undertaken to understand the baseline of water quality, prior to any prospecting taking place.”

Ground-water quality

The Midlands Conservancies Forum is located within the uMgungungdlovu District Municipality and within a National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Area. Around five million people currently rely on this river and its tributaries for water. In order to determine the amount of shale gas present in the Midlands and its viability as an energy source, prospecting will need to take place. This activity has the potential to affect ground-water quality. For the decision to be taken to prospect, a baseline assessment of water resources, their quality and usage is required to understand the impact any change in water quality may have from prospecting.

Currently, this information is not comprehensive enough to inform decision-making. This project will help to determine how much non-municipal water is being used in the KZN Midlands, for what purpose, and its quality over a dry and wet season.

This project’s work will build the capacity of the relevant regulators and inform decision-making relating to fracking and other potential developments in this National Freshwater Priority Area. The database of water resources (both ground and surface water) currently used by those without access to a municipal supply will be able to be maintained by the Department of Water Affairs after the completion of the project.

The database of water quality from the snapshot of analytical results of these resources during a wet and dry season, will enhance the knowledge of the status of the water in the area. The development of standards against which the analytical results can be assessed will assist regulators and users alike.

Another fracking issue to consider is that of insurance.

Insurance implications

Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG) and AfriForum have formally approached South African insurers and the South African Insurance Association to clarify their policy on the unique risks presented by shale gas mining and ancillary activities. With the advent of new technology and shale gas mining spreading at a rapid pace in the United States, insurance providers are scrambling to review their polices and adjust accordingly. For many companies, such as Nationwide, one of the largest insurance companies in the United States, a thorough review of the damages that can arise due to fracking and other drilling activities, has led to the conclusion that it is better for the company to refuse coverage for any damages related to fracking.

According to an internal memo outlining the company’s policy, “After months of research and discussion, we have determined that the exposures presented by hydraulic fracturing are too great to ignore. Risks involved with hydraulic fracturing are now prohibited for general liability, commercial auto, motor truck cargo, auto physical damage and public auto [insurance] coverage.”

Unsurprisingly, this information has raised legal questions and valid concerns for many U.S. home and property owners.

TKAG CEO Jonathan Deal says the issue of liability for and indemnity from likely claims is something that communities, homeowners and farmers must be informed about. “The potential for loss here — as a result of an accident — or simply accumulated and unanticipated impacts over a period of time — is enormous, and anyone exposed to these risks — even road users, and people with occasional passing exposure to the activity has an undeniable right to be properly informed by their insurer ahead of time.”

— Midlands Conservancy Forum.

New Forest — the start of the uMgeni River. Will this unpolluted and pristine waterway remain the same if fracking were to be allowed in the Midlands? Hydraulic fracturing (termed fracking for short) to release gas from shale beds is a real possibility in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

“Around five million people currently rely on this river and its tributaries for water. In order to determine the amount of shale gas present in the Midlands and its viability as an energy source, prospecting will need to take place. This activity has the potential to affect ground-water quality.”

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