Fracking can poison water

2012-06-11 22:52

Pietermaritzburg - Some chemicals used for shale gas fracking could contaminate or poison water far from the original drilling site, an expert warned on Monday.

"Before any chemical company is granted a licence to frack it must prove that the chemicals used in fracking cocktails are safe," the Free State University ground water research unit's Prof Gerrit van Tonder said.

He said positive perceptions of fracking and the shale gas it could unlock needed to be balanced by the potential risks involved.

"Other more green options are available, even if fracking is considered," Van Tonder said in an interview.

The danger was that large, watery, underground caverns, which exist even in the arid Karoo, could be polluted by the chemicals used for fracking.

Noxious chemicals leaking into water at one drill site could spread the contamination by either lateral or upward movement of the water.

Aquifers - from the Latin words aqua, meaning water, and fer, meaning bearing - could be conduits for the spread of these pollutants.

Ample evidence indicated that, in some circumstances, water welled up from deep sources, such as in the case of hot water springs. Van Tonder said the impacts and risks of fracking fluid reaching fresh water aquifers depended on the number of well pads.

17 300 boreholes

One company had indicated it would need one such pad for every 260 hectares, with up to 10 boreholes per pad.

This meant that if only half of the nine million hectares, as per licence applications, were developed, there would be 17 300 boreholes.

"The integrity of just one borehole failing can be disastrous for surrounding borehole users and the environment within a year," he said.

It was possible that the contaminants could move slowly, spreading to other boreholes over decades, or within a matter of days along dolerite sills and faults.

These included annuli, the ring of material round fracking cement or grouting seals, he said.

Such events had been found to be major contributors of groundwater pollution in the United States and Australia.

  • djmain1 - 2012-06-11 23:44

    Of course it can!! With water becoming a scarce commodity, we can't afford to gamble with our future. This is the epitomy of short-term thinking as opposed to long-term planning. Will we choose immediate profit or will we endeavour to preserve this planet for our children.

      mario.dippenaar - 2012-06-12 00:00

      Of course we must!! With fuels becoming a scare commodity, we must take risks in the present. This is necessity of short-term planning as well as long term security. Will we choose immediate energy solutions or will we endeavour to ensure energy for our children.

      Press - 2012-06-12 01:28

      Imagine for a moment the water you drink every day becomes poisonous and you have no other source available - then think of the problem fracking can cause in the Karoo and why one would risk this . . . . and why would one want to provide your children with anything other than sustainable energy sources . . . which already exist.

      Shaun - 2012-06-12 06:39

      DerpyHooves you are part of the problem in this World at the moment. Unfortunately our children will group all of us together and laugh at how stupid we were.

      alan.gernet - 2012-06-12 08:05

      Everybody who cares should get educated with the true facts and dangers of fracking. Shell has a notoriously bad environmental care record. Google 'Gordon Pugh-Lewis' for true facts on fracking. This man (The Human Polar Bear) does not mince his wirds when he speaks out for the environment. Read his books to realise how much damage has already been done to the world, and how close we are to tipping over into complete destruction for all life. Remember too, that the Govt's "spin doctors" will tell any untruths, if there is some 'instant'reward that they can get their hands on now. The World's No 1 Priority should now be to conserve and save what is left of the environment. What happens to the Earth, happens to the creatures of the Earth! We need to have the guts and foresight to save the planet. Sadly, Human greed knows no bounds, and our Govt. shows little or no regard for anything other than power and greed.

      NrGx - 2012-06-12 08:35

      Hippy greenfingers! - I agree with Derpy, as "risky" as it may be, the companies involved in fracking are FAR more efficient than local municipalities, who have already poisoned our waters, and will create jobs, a new revenue stream, an step up the investment into our economy. I just dont get it when people complain about the electricity problem, but wont accept nuclear power stations. Want jobs to be created, but wont accept ideas because they are "risky". Come on, I am all for protecting the planet for the future, but hell, if you really were this adamant, stop driving your car, stop using electricity, stop your use of all current technology!

      Press - 2012-07-03 18:35

      Nrgx -Ask the people of Fukhushima - they might be better at comprehending it than you . . . . . And the argument that you have to stop doing all the nice things is a false argument. There are renewable energy resources available . . .

  • Phae - 2012-06-12 04:15

    This is the problem with humans, they think they have the right to life at any cost. Fracking is one of the situations where we know we'll damage the environment, but think its ok for money and our insatiable appetite to power our over populated species. If we let fracking begin it will be premeditated environmental destruction and should be stopped before it starts. The amount to comments is indicative of how few people are concerned with their planets survival.

  • zaatheist - 2012-06-12 04:24

    Shale gas extraction is just a short term answer to the World's increasing demands for energy with the potential to cause irretrievable environmental damage. We cannot believe the claims of the energy companies as they keep their extraction methods secret and their is no guarantee that once fracking starts they will not use all kinds of chemicals to ensure the most profitable extractions. Look at the consequences of gold mining. Johannesburg is now perched upon millions of wooden pit props immersed in acid in the abandoned mines. The owners have long since gone with their profits and the public has to live with and counter the consequences.

      zaatheist - 2012-06-12 04:33

      Instead of investing in fracking we should be investing in renewable energy. Germany already obtains 20% of its energy from renewable resources and created more than 100000 jobs in the renewable energy sector. This is sunny South Africa and we have vast tracts of semi desert. We should be at the forefront of solar energy production. Every building in South Africa should be covered with solar panels. All it takes is to divert the billions towards solar energy research and subsidies for solar panel production and installation. The only real beneficiaries of fracking will be the oil companies and the politicians who approve of it. We stopped the Richards Bay mining. We have a responsibility to protect the future so lets stop fracking.

      Phae - 2012-06-12 07:00

      My thumbs up/down options do not work, so here's mine, I agree! Its also concerning there are so few of us who care. Hopefully we will be able to put up enough resistence to stop this. Water is the most precious resource on earth and we have to preserve it at all costs. The number of people who hear this but don't get it astounds me. Fracking is NOT an option,

  • canadianscottmiller - 2012-06-12 04:43

    This is one of the reasons so many Canadians and especially Albertans are wising up and becoming self-sufficient in their water purification. These gravity fed units require no electricity, can purify any freshwater source, and have been used by UNICEF and Red Cross for decades... Check em out:

  • debra.bowe - 2012-06-12 05:18

    Properly cement cased wells don't pose any more of a hazard than any other well.

      Jake - 2012-06-12 06:05

      So Debra, what guarentee do we have that shortcuts won't be taken in the strive for top dollar? Mining is in it for maximum profits only. They don't give a damn about the environment and regardless of what they may advocate, look at the history and legacy, both long and short term, of mining in the world. I am waiting to see what funny chemicals may pop up in Vilanculos' ground water in the near future.

      Adil Smit - 2012-06-12 06:12

      And Japannese scientists were a 100% sure that the walls around their nuclear reactors would never be damaged by a tsunami and a year ago a massive tragedy happened. You cannot predict nature.

      Morné - 2012-06-12 06:46

      Debra, that is probably true. The difference is of course the number of wells. Where traditional wells for gas and petrochemical extraction use one well drilled into a void/reservoir fracking uses a dozen or more wells on each platform/pad. This multiplies the risk at least ten-fold. The concrete casing is an important risk area in fracking and I believe failure of this casing the major source of pollution in the American fracking operations.

      Pieter - 2012-06-12 07:07

      Unfortunately the wells wont be cased as they need to pressurize the wells in order to fraq the formations. They need water and chemicals (and lots of it), and they have no control as to where the fractures will go.

      alan.gernet - 2012-06-12 08:08

      @Debra. Not sure where you got your info from, but it is completely inaccurate. JUst by merely drilling, hgs contaminiation can (and doubtlessly WILL) occur, especially considering the number of holes that will be bored if the Govt. does not come to it's senses.

      Gungets - 2012-06-12 08:42

      We don't pour hazardous chemicals down "any other well". What are the chances of a well casing breaking down ... 1 in 100, 1 in 1000, perhaps only 1 in 17300 ???. All we need is one and the underground water is contaminated. 1 in 17300 ... that's all. BOYCOTT SHELL. START NOW!!

  • ApSoLuT1 - 2012-06-12 06:54

    Some measures have to be taken to protect the Karoo's citizens who are already facing water shortages. Any way why is SASOL or Engen not in the forefront of this fracking thing, should foreign companies acquire the license to fracking, no environmental measure will be taken as seen in GP and there is no guarantee of reduced energy prices. Solar panels and wind farms should be the answer

  • Cassandra Eileen Olivier - 2012-06-12 07:08

    Shell must just frack off. What our we going to say to our children one day when there is no clean water to drink

      francois.greeff.98 - 2012-06-12 07:32

      My dear Cassandra Eileen, by accessing the interweb you are using electricity which is causing greenhouse gasses; which makes your comment a bit pretentious don't you think?

      alan.gernet - 2012-06-12 08:11

      @Francois - that is a really DOFF comment. Read what Gordon Pugh-Lewis has to say on fracking, and then try to make some meaningful comments. And I agree - Shell (who has a shocking environmental record) should just frack off. I refuse to even use Shell products anymore because of fracking.

      francois.greeff.98 - 2012-06-12 08:39

      @alan, your opinion is duly noted but the reality is that anybody that uses oil can not be against fracking. That is considering that there is no such thing as an environmentally safe way of extracting oil, gas or coal from mother earth. The irony is that most of the peeps on here only have a problem with fracking if it happens on their own doorstep and couldn't give a rat's ass about fracking in Canada or where ever.

      alan.gernet - 2012-06-12 09:15

      Quite incorrect Francois - I give a HUGE damn about any environmental damage anywhere in the world! (Not just fracking!). I use oil (as sparingly as possible), and I am strongly against fracking. Safe Water is fast becoming the world's scarcest resource, and it sure outweigh's the need for humans to drive around in gas guzzlers etc. Seriously dude, check out what Gordon Pugh Lewis has to say (about many environmental issues) before making up your mind which way to go.

      Craig - 2012-06-12 09:19

      There are 1.3 Billion cubic kilometers of water in the world, above ground. Clean water is a simple function of infrastructure for storage, treatment and distribution. Bringing children into the argument is rather facile as we were all children once and children grow up and have the world they want just as we did. Natural gas will be a huge boon to South Africa and the world and fracking has been used for over 60 years without the catastrophe so many seem to predict. The big breakthrough is the technology to allow horizontal drilling so as to be able to recover gas and oil far more effectively than in the past. For those worried about the oil companies making money then just nationalize the gas industry in South Africa. Finally wind and solar are just niche technologies in the absence of electrical storage systems and those systems don't exist except for pumped storage which is geographically specific and very inefficient and expensive. They therefore require equivalent industrial type generation running at all times to take up the slack for when the wind doesn't blow and at night. I once again note that opposition to ubiquitous and cheap energy is driven by misanthropy, hatred of the free market economic model and an "I'm all right Jack" attitude to others who have not yet achieved the same quality of life.

      Adil - 2012-06-12 23:42

      Craig,bringing children into this is very important. YOu can read what the American Academy of pediatrics say in their update on fracking and why children is especially vulnerable:

      Press - 2012-06-13 11:54

      @Craig - every single argument you make is basically off the point and stupid - suffice to say: * Water cannot be economically re-introduced on the basis you argue into ecosystems that have been destroyed/poisoned - its not only about drinking water. * Bringing children into the argument as part of a sustainability argument is not facile - it actually goes to the heart of sustainability. * Fracturing has not been used for over sixty years as you claim "without catastrophe". * What the hell has nationalisation and perceived attacks on the freemarket system got to do with ecological and socio-economic arguments about fracking in the Karoo ? * Renewables (Inclusive of sun and wind technologies) have developed many storage technologies - and the technologies exist to transport electricity over significant distances ( the sun always shines somewhere - try and figure out the link with transportability if you can) Finally I suspect your willingness to accuse others of "misanthropy" is born from a critical failure to make the minimum effort to try and understand what our energy consumption patterns are doing to our environment, its sustainability and the emerging solutions. Your position is almost similar to never having questioned living as a beneficiary in an apartheid state. Quite simply - you are arguing we should simply be allowed to carry on the way we are - irrespective of the damage we cause.

  • francois.greeff.98 - 2012-06-12 07:11

    Karoo and water in one sentence? Sounds a bit like an oxymoron.

      alan.gernet - 2012-06-12 08:18

      ummm. I can identify the moron in that statement

      francois.greeff.98 - 2012-06-12 08:46

      Alan, you are a true debating genius by figuring out that playing the man instead of the issue is the way to respond to a statement. You must seriously consider making yourself available for public office.

      alan.gernet - 2012-06-12 09:17

      sorry - meant as humour rather than to offend. There is a lot of underground water in the Karoo in fact.

  • Michael - 2012-06-12 07:50

    These issues are surely too complex for one line answers. We all drink water. We also all drive cars and use heating in winter. Gas has less than half the environmental impact that coal has. The positive environmental impact of gas and the potential for jobs is difficult to estimate. In addition many people would benefit if the price of petrol or heating halved. So I think we have to look carefully at the potential damages and the potential benefit. And the risks and the need to manage them

      francois.greeff.98 - 2012-06-12 08:30

      Please don't come here with your logical tendencies.

      djmain1 - 2012-06-12 10:02

      If you think fracking will decrease the price of petrol, you're delusional! Look at Sasol - they produce petrol much cheaper and yet charge the same price as on the international market. To say we South Africans will benefit from this is a fallacy - the only people who will really benefit are the oil company's shareholders.

      Adil - 2012-06-12 23:37

      This is what the American Academy of Pediatrics think:

  • colin.ashby.35 - 2012-06-12 07:51

    go see the movie GASLAND and then decide if tracking is good or will destroy our water resources. come on water affairs, some backbone pls.

      Craig - 2012-06-12 09:25

      Colin you are aware that Gasland is just a piece of misleading propaganda aren't you?

      colin.ashby.35 - 2012-06-12 09:36

      Craig, i don't think it could be when i saw gas coming out with the tap water and lots of fire.and i am sure that hundreds of families can't be wrong when they have no water to drink and rivers have gas bubbles coming up through the mud and light up when approached with a lit match. i personally think the super wealthy boys and companies are only after they care about you and me? NO

      Craig - 2012-06-12 10:39

      Colin, the gas in the taps was methane from very shallow depths and it has been in the water since those wells were drilled, over 80 years and counting.

      colin.ashby.35 - 2012-06-12 11:01

      Craig , if thats the case, why did they not have the problem, now they have the problem after fracking started.if this was a problem from 80 years ago, why are the people still living there.sounds like nuts to me

      Adil Smit - 2012-06-12 22:42

      Vermont has just become the first American state to ban fracking and there are moratoria and/ or bans in place in more than 140 places, most notably France where it is now not only banned but against the law.

  • Jan - 2012-06-12 08:03

    What are the names of these poisonous chemicals?

      Craig - 2012-06-12 09:26

      Water , sand and guar gum.

      djmain1 - 2012-06-12 10:04

      Forget the chemicals - if natural gas bubbles through our water, it's polluted.

      Adil Smit - 2012-06-12 22:44

      In Pennsyllvania in the US, legislation is being passed prohibiting doctors telling patients which chemicals they have been exposed to when they get sick.

      Adil - 2012-06-12 23:39

      Hi,you can read what the American Academy of Pediatrics say - they list the chemicals and their side-effects and why children are especially vulnerable.

      Pieter - 2012-06-13 09:55

      @Graig, apart from the guar gum, what about the Caustics, salts, lignosulphonates?? Fracking is a very ineffective way to remove gas from any formation.

  • Craig - 2012-06-12 08:16

    So - renewable energy is the answer? Fact is one single wind generator uses more energy to produce and transport than other carbon based energy source. Batteries, turbines and vanes all have to be manufactured in factories, using guess what, energy. Then these "wind farms" have a huge footprint, i.e. taking up land that can no longer be productive agricultural land. The tips of he blades move at the speed of sound and kill masses of bats at night, and raptors, geese, and ducks during the day. Once these predators are removed there are more rodents and insects in our environment, and guess what, the farmers start hauling out the poison, and it doesn't matter if it is "organic poison" as long as it kills the sudden "plague" that came from nowhere!! Oh of course, then the wind stops blowing, an we have our skyline dotted with these beautiful structures scarring our once pristine landscape.

      alan.gernet - 2012-06-12 08:23

      Hardly applicable in the deserts! Absolute rubbish you are sprouing there lad.... the long term energy savings of wind turbines by far outweigh manufacturing carbon footprints, and from what I undersatnd, fossil fuels have the worst impact on the environment, and a far higher carbon footprint that any other energy source!

      francois.greeff.98 - 2012-06-12 08:43

      @Craig, once again trying to confuse the issue with logic. What these emotional girlies don't understand is that ZA is sitting on a time-bomb called youth unemployment and that fracking might go a long way in preventing a French revolution scenario.

      francois.greeff.98 - 2012-06-12 08:52

      @alan, based on your statement regarding fossil fuels I assume that you don't make use of motor vehicles at all nor do you use any products which had been delivered by motor vehicles?

      alan.gernet - 2012-06-12 09:32

      I do Francois - as sparingly as possible in a fuel efficient vehicle. We also recycle, use solar heating and avoid heaters in the house. Craig's comment was against using renewable energy i.e. wind turbines on the basis of them being ugly, using 'energy' to manufacture, harming bats, and 'destroying' agricultural land. I was pointing out that renewable energy has a much lower carbon footprint.

      zaatheist - 2012-06-12 09:39

      .......... and what is to happen when the oil and the gas runs out? This is just short term. The time to start developing and using renewable energy sources is now.

      Adil Smit - 2012-06-12 22:38

      Germany, a country with very little sunshine is producing massive amounts of solar power. Google it.

      Adil - 2012-06-12 23:58

      Francois,the experience in the US is that fracking does create jobs,across the board less than predicted and claimed and a lot of it quite specialised and that there is very few jobs for unskilled labour and that it results is losses of jobs in agriculture and the industries around agriculture and rural communities. Craig states on his FB page that he is from Pensyllvania in the US,where legislation is being passed that will prevent doctors from telling patients which fracking chemicals they have been exposed to when they get sick.In terms of fracking - Pensyllvania is truly the WILD WEST.

  • mikenortje - 2012-06-12 08:46

      mikenortje - 2012-06-12 08:50

      If you follow the IEA guidelines it adds 7% to the total cost and will ensure that the process is environmentally sound. The Karoo has enough gas to keep SA going for the next 80 years and will go a long way to help with unemployment. This is going to happen so the pressure groups should rather focus on making sure it is done in an environmentally sensitive manner

      djmain1 - 2012-06-12 10:07

      We stopped e-tolling, we can stop fracking too.

      Adil Smit - 2012-06-12 22:30

      The IEA has grossly over-estimated the amount of gas in America( up to 80%), the UK and their estimates have been discarded in favour of the much lower estimates of the Geological Societies in the US and UK.

      Adil Smit - 2012-06-12 22:36

      The first American state( Vermont)has also just banned fracking and in Pennsylvania legislation is being passed whereby doctors will be prohibited from telling patients which fracking chemicals are making them sick. So nothing environmentally sound about fracking, no matter how you spin it. That's why France has banned it,the Netherlands also saying no, the British government back-tracking on their initial enthusiasm about fracking for shale gas.

      Press - 2012-06-13 12:07

      You cant argue because we have enough gas in the Karoo to keep South Africa going for 80 years it therefor becomes a good reason to destroy the Karoo - e.g. alternatively it can be stated that it is a fact that we have enough sun energy in the Karoo to keep South Africa going forever, and without destroying the place . . . . . And by the way - the link you referred us to in your post above is rather lightweight . . . . .

  • Andrew - 2012-06-18 07:31

    There has been very little evidence of any ground water contamination from fracking in the USA. All these "experts" ever say is that "SOME chemicals COULD contaminate ground water" - well sure, that is true but this has not been the case elsewhere. Exploiting our shale gas (which happens to be the 4th biggest reserve ON THE PLANET) would be a game changer for the energy game in SA. We could more than halve our carbon emmissions instantly if we converted from coal to gas! Not to mention the HUGE economic and employment benefits. LETS SEE SOME UNBIASED REPORTING ABOUT THIS SUBJECT PLEASE!!!! Everything reported is one sided and sensationlist!!!!

  • Andrew - 2012-06-18 07:44

    I see a lot of comments about methane in the water in Pennsylvania - and indeed that is what caused the furore - not the drilling chemicals - which are, as Craig correctly pointed out, mainly sand and guar gum!. Pennsylvania has been mining coal, oil, coal bed methane and now shale gas for over 150 years. When most of the state is ontop of these huge hydrocarbon deposits, it's unsurprising that there is some methane in their water - remember that the first coal and oil was found pretty close to the surface, so the methane has been seeping out for centuries naturally... Methane is a naturally occuring gas that you all emit every day (especially the legume eaters :))

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