“It’s war!” The cry goes up at a meeting in Beaufort West’s agricultural hall where people from the town and its surrounds are bracing themselves for battle: Karoo-lovers in one corner and energy companies in the other.
The campaign is against petroleum giant Shell and two other companies that want to extract natural gas in this remarkable part of the world that’s hundreds of millions of years old and still largely unspoilt.
“There’s no planet B” and even a direct “Frack off, Shell!” are some of the slogans shouted at Shell’s information meeting in Newlands, Cape Town, a few days earlier, which many environmentally conscious people attended.
Fracking is the controversial, potentially polluting process by which gas deposits are freed from shale rock.
Shell received a dressing-down in Newlands and in Beaufort West emotions are running as high as suspicion. The biggest concern among people here is the pollution of ground water during the hydraulic fracturing, which is banned in many countries.
Piet van Wyk, chairman of the newly established GreenKaroo pressure group, highlights some of the main points of contention.
Opposition to Shell’s plans is gathering momentum by the day, he says. “It’s so risky and the Karoo is such a sensitive environment that no one should even think of supporting them.”
Job creation is being punted by those supporting the fracking idea, Van Wyk says.
“But remember most of the work that will be created here will involve skilled labour. And later there will be fewer opportunities. You might end up with large gas fields, no local job opportunities and possibly polluted water.”
The area affected by Shell’s application for proposed shale gas exploration is divided into an “eastern, central and western precinct” and stretches from as far as Queenstown and Fort Beaufort in the east to Fraserburg in the west – about 90 000 square km altogether.
Concerned people in Beaufort West are shown clips from the American documentary, Gasland. It’s upsetting: water from taps and hand pumps that burns when a match is lit, animals suffering as a result of polluted drinking water, members of the US Congress asking for proof that fracking isn’t risky – and being told there’s always a risk.
In addition to the pollution issue other concerns are how toxic waste will be disposed of, the impact on SA’s already burdened roads should thousands of water-tanker trucks be needed and the sight of drilling towers on the veld.
“We’re asking everyone who loves the Karoo and is concerned about fracking to boycott Shell stations and fill up elsewhere,” Van Wyk urges. “Stop supporting other Shell products and we ask the government for a total moratorium on all gas exploration. Please don’t sell our country to big-money companies and leave us with a huge waste dump.”
The full article appears in YOU, 7 April 2011.