Shell contacts Karoo farmers over gas-exploration
24 March 2011 2 Comments
Questions are being raised in Dutch parliament about the role played by the Dutch ambassador in Shell Oil Company’s filing for gas-exploration in the environmentally-sensitive Karoo in South Africa…
And even though the environmental-management-impact reports are not even ready yet, the multinational Shell Oil company is quietly contacting individual farmers in the environmentally-sensitive dry Karoo region to ‘discuss its plans for gas-exploration’, opponents to the Shell plans are warning.
Shell applied to the SA staterun petroleum exploration agency to drill for gas in three areas making up a total of 90,000 square kilometres in the underlying shale-rock of the dry Karoo region. The project is vehemently opposed by farmers, community members and landowners in the Karoo, including landowner Dutch princess Irene, right, as well as billionaire businessman Johann Rupert. The Democratic Alliance in South Africa has called for Shell’s application to be put on hold — and probing questions are also being asked in Dutch parliament. http://internationaal.pvda.nl/nieuws/nieuws/2011/02/Kamervragen+Shell+Z-A.html
The gas in the underlying shale layers would be released by a process known as fracking — hydraulically cracking open the rock using many millions of liters of water combined with chemicals,; pumped deeply underground to release gas trapped in the underlying shale layers. It would have a horrendous impact on the Karoo’s very scarce fresh water resources underground.
Dutch parliamentarians have also raised ethical concerns: asking for an investigation into the Anglo/Dutch company’s apparent lack of environmental and humanitarian worries, and wanting to know what role was played by the Dutch ambassador in SA to help the company apply for its drilling-permits. Dutch Labour MPs Dikkers and Timmermans also noted that even Dutch Princess Irene had openly opposed the Shell drilling plans, pointing out that “with such drilling huge amounts of water are needed, while the Karoo residents suffer from a chronic shortage of fresh water; and harmful chemicals are used int he process which pollute the already scarce underground water supplies’. They demanded an immediate investigation and a report-back to Parliament. (Prinses Irene keert zich tegen plan Shell’ – NRC Handelsblad, Monday 31 Jan 2011.)
Yesterday, Sneeuberg-Agricultural Union chairman Douglas Stern said its 48-member union had appointed Graaff-Reinet lawyer Derek Light as their legal counsel after hearing about the plans – and started hearing about Shell’s individual approaches to local farmers. “Initially we thought these one-on-one approaches by Shell to our farmers were just rumours, but then a representative of Golder Associates, Shell’s consultant group, phone my house and asked my wife Liz to provide them with the contact-information of all the Sneeuberg-farmers. She told them to contact our lawyer, Mr Light. We never heard from them again.’ (Picture left: Karoo anti-fracking campaigner Koos van der Wat, picture by Beeld journalist Marisa Spoormaker).
Light had also stood up in an earlier meeting with about 200 land-owners and warned the farmers that Shell and its consultant-group Golder Associates were ‘carrying out an illegal campaign’, pointing out that there were ‘irregularities’ in Shell’s application for gas-exploration through the government’s agency Petroleum Agency of SA (Pasa); the lack of public-participation in the decision-making process for the environmentally-sensitive region; Shell’s inability to provide guarantees that their precious underground water-resources would not be destroyed by the ‘hydraulic fracking’ process; inadequate environmental-studies and Shell’s vagueness as to the chemicals which would be used during the drilling. Immediately after this meeting the Karoo farmers gathered outside and held an impromptu meeting.
Stern pointed out that until the concept-environmental management plan for gas-exploration in the Karoo has been drawn up, Golder Consultants are not even allowed to speak to the farmers to try and influence them. “But now that Shell is suddenly are faced with skilled opposition, they want to speak to us on a one-on-one basis. They figured they could just place their advertisements, hold an ‘information meeting’ and that they would then have done their part. But we don’t allow ourselves to be steamrollered like this.’
No law to regulate hydraulic fracking for gas-exploration:
The most important danger to the fragile and bone-dry Karoo is that the gas-exploration process’ use of hydraulic fracking (breaking subsurface rocks) requires millions of litres of water to which unknown chemicals would be added – and that the company would have to drill into the precious underground fresh-water acquifers to reach the underlying slate-layer. An even greater worry to Stern and other Karoo land-owners is that there is no law in South Africa which even regulates hydraulic fracking for gas-exploration.
Stern is particularly concerned about the storage sites where those polluted millions of liters of water, mixed with chemicals after it is pumped from the boreholes. “In the concept-plan there is no clarify as to what is going to be done with the polluted waste-water. How can one provide any kind of reasonable comment on such vague subjects?’ he asked. Other concerns: ‘the hellish traffic which will hit the Karoo’s roads’.
Golder Associates did not comment to Beeld’s request.