Cape Town - A Free State professor says there is a high risk
that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Karoo could result in one of the
biggest water pollution problems in the world, it was reported on Friday.
"This is serious stuff. There will be trouble, and
Shell and the other companies involved must take note," University of the
Free State professor Gerrit van Tonder told the Cape Times.
Last July he had told Karoo farmers they need not fear water
pollution from fracking, but his stance had changed since completing his latest
He was "100% certain" that underground water in
the Karoo basin flowed upwards, and that there were a vast number of natural
"pathways" along which water could flow upwards.
As a result water could carry a toxic cocktail of chemicals
used in fracking up to freshwater aquifers nearer the surface.
Combined with a number of artificial pathways created by
fracking boreholes, polluted water would have devastating consequences for
farmers, he said.
Fracking involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and
chemicals at high pressure down a borehole into the rock strata containing the
shale gas. The process releases the gas, which flows out of the borehole to the
surface, where it is captured.
On Thursday, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said concerns
about fracking, to extract shale gas reserves, needed to be overcome through
research and technology.
"We cannot allow a blessing to lie fallow... If shale
gas is one of the blessings, we are going to go for it," Peters said.
It was essential, however, that the process was not rushed. The technology involved in fracking was established in other countries, such as Australia and the United States, and similar to that used in processing gold. She said means of extracting the shale gas safely would benefit the Karoo's inhabitants.