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The frightening facts about fracking

Date Released: Mon, 3 October 2011 10:00 +0200

Doug Stern, a cattle and sheep farmer in the Graaf-Reinet area, delivered a disturbing talk about the facts behind fracking recently at Rhodes University.

‘Fracking’ or hydraulic fracturing is a process whereby shale gas is extracted from the earth by means of a pressurized fluid.

Organised by Rhodes environmental officer, Nikki Köhly and the Albany/Bathurst Farmers’ League  an umbrella organisation representing around 500 farmers in the Ndlambe and Makana municipal areas.

At present, the South African government has expressed its intention to allow fracking to take place in the Karoo area, where 25% of the land surface has already been earmarked.  A three to four month moratorium, which has been extended for six months, indicates that, if given the go-ahead, fracking may take place in the Karoo.

This unsettling news compelled agricultural co operative BKB Ltd. to do some of its own research so they invited Stern to visit the United States of New York and Pennsylvania to gather information about how fracking has affected both farmers and local inhabitants.

Gas and oil companies are currently drilling on 30 of the 50 United States. Stern interviewed 45 different people, including gathering data captured by scientists at Cornell University, both in favour of and against fracking.

Projecting a series of slides, Stern showed how the well-pads would be only 3-4 km apart with each well-pad used to create over 30 drilling holes from 3 to 5000 feet below the surface.

“If this were to happen in South Africa, our food security would be under threat,” Stern emphasised. “With over 44 million people on the poverty line, we would become dependent on other countries to feed us. We (as farmers) believe that agriculture is the pillar on which the country rests.”

Stern firmly believes that Shell, as the main company imposing fracking, has not been transparent in its dealings, most notably regarding exactly which chemicals are used.

The majority of this carcinogenic cocktail is used to change the viscosity of the water which reduces friction. According to Stern’s findings, 47% are known carcinogens and 40% are endocrine disruptors which cause cancer and respiratory problems.

Moreover, many are invisible emissions, known as volatile organic compounds. Because of the far-reaching affect on water, crops and livestock, Stern said: “There isn’t an individual in this country that will not be affected by the contaminants of fracking.”

His view is supported by the fact that Shell claims to have over 50 years’ experience, yet hydraulic fracturing, which was developed in Texas, has only been in use over the last decade. Stern discussed the many negatives impacts including how each hole is estimated to utilise 20 million litres during its five year lifespan.

The concrete casing for the holes, which is known to crack under pressure, is unsafe, causing contaminated water to leach into the water table. Yet many people believe that fracking will create jobs. Stern refutes this, saying that it will merely create a ‘boom to bust’ scenario which is not sustainable in the long run. In one case 43 000 jobs were promised but only 17000 were made available.

Traffic congestion (with over 1000 trucks per well), dust settling on vegetation, noise and poor waste water management were other serious problems Stern encountered in the USA. “The main problem is that Shell can’t reveal what’s going on because they are sub-contracted out, so they can’t speak on behalf of their sub-contractors,” says Stern.

“We don’t know who is running the country, the government or the gas and oil companies.” He believes awareness is instrumental to “making our voices heard. Reclamation is not restoration we must protect what we have.”  

The talk was rounded off with a question and answer session with palaeontologist Dr Billy de Klerk; Professor Emeritus Dr Peter Rose and Dr Garth Cambray.

Photo and story by Anna-Karien Otto

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