Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Industry funded watchdog on Fracking will simply not work

Industry funded watchdog on Fracking will simply not work

By Jonathan Deal,

Treasure Karoo Action Group

TKAG chairman, Jonathan Deal responds to a proposition that Shell fund an independent monitoring group to act as a watchdog over fracking

The questions posed by Prof. De Witt’s paper[1] are in the circumstances reasonable and rational. The framework within which the facts are presented is well researched, capturing the nexus of a debate between those who pin their hopes on shale gas mining and those who don’t.

The idea that a completely independent body, paid for by industry, be appointed to regulate the industry will not work. Any group of people funded by a profit-making institution cannot escape a degree of loyalty and bias in favour of their funders. Consider the inherent conflict of interest experienced by our own Petroleum Agency (PASA) and Department of Minerals (DMR) who are in the position of having to encourage exploitation of our mineral resources and also adjudicate on the licensing process.

A workable modification of professor De Witt’s idea, which may have merit would be for the proposed body to be funded by government and not have any industry connection whatsoever. The suggestion, however, is ahead of itself in the current scenario because it bypasses larger and unresolved issues running through the debate. These well-documented points militate against the very concept of extraction of the shale gas in the absence of more facts.

The argument is far bigger than simplistically saying that if the gas is there, we must mine it because the gas will create energy capacity and the mining will create work. The basis of my argument against shale gas exploration at this time, is a complete lack of thorough research of the technology. When juxtaposed against the broad environment in South Africa, such research would clarify positive or negative aspects arising from shale gas mining and must afford attention to the potential of solar and wind power – not only to generate energy but as an alternative to create sustainable and non-polluting jobs.

In essence, my point is that with the information at hand, and given the international bad reputation of the technology, our country has not conducted a thorough strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of the benefits and costs of fracking in South Africa. It follows that an assessment of this nature would be of no use until and unless it includes every relevant environment, and, by implication, the associated government departments and relevant ngo’s together with the hundreds and thousands of people that they represent. It is trite to say that despite the unusual press enjoyed by fracking, many people, even those in towns who have access to media and internet are unaware of the term (fracking), and most of those who are aware, regard the problem as ‘something to do with the Karoo’.

If this is the benchmark in suburbia, we can prove that farm workers, that group most dependent on clean water and a safe, healthy environment, who are least able to pack up and move away, are in fact the least informed about something that will have a marked impact on their lives.

It is inter alia, these questions that the scientists, economists, oil companies, and government appear to be overlooking.

Consider, in this context, some of the better known points for and against fracking, which it is submitted lend weight to the call for a more thorough investigation before we even consider licencing exploration in any form.

Shale gas burns cleaner. Yes it does. But Jan-Willem Eggink of Shell is on record in Johannesburg on July 19th as stating that his company cannot measure, nor contain fugitive gas emissions during the drilling, fracking, extraction, flaring and piping process. These gasses when combined with the Co2 emissions in a fracking operation form lethal ozone. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas (GHG) than the emissions from coal-fired plants.

Fairly credible reports have recently emerged that point to a far higher contribution to ghg from shale gas mining than the industry would have us believe. Naturally, the oil and gas lobby has the money to commission voluminous reports and opinions trashing opposing papers, but the fact remains that they damage their case by not counting these emissions. And so, the gap between extracted and burned methane and the emissions from coal may be narrower than the figures quoted by Shell et al – and perhaps then not a reason to rush headlong into the production of gas turbines.

De Witt refers to the ability of shale gas to assist with the 2015 UN Millennium Development goal of poverty reduction. This underscores the need for a SEA to consider and determine:

· How many local jobs will actually be created by fracking? (Prof Philip Lloyd makes the nonsensical claim of employment on a scale never before seen in South Africa);

· How long will those jobs last?

· What health effects will be experienced by workers exposed to chemicals and emissions in a fracking operation?

· How many actual jobs will be interrupted and lost due to fracking? – in farming and agriculture, tourism and the satellite industries dependent on those activities;

· The impact of fracking hundreds of thousands of wells on the country’s rural development program and land tenure act;

· The negative downward impact (already a fact) on land prices in an area comprising 52% of the Karoo and 18% of our country – who will buy a Karoo farm at present – and for the next nine years during which the applicants can exercise their right to explore? And who will buy a farm that has been fracked knowing the risk that as cement corrodes and steel rusts, the toxins released in fracking can find their way into the irreplaceable underground water?

· By Shell’s own figures 400 producing wells in Wyoming are supervised by only 66 Shell employees.

· Recent reports indicate that shale gas wells last for an average period from 12 to 90 months. This may provide good returns for operators but hardly makes a case for sustainable income and employment.

· The Global Climate Network in March 2010 released a report on South Africa, amongst other countries and projected 145000 new jobs in SA by 2020 if we pursued renewable energy as a priority. Even if this figure is half of that – the jobs are sustainable and non-polluting.

So shale gas mining may not the panacea for poverty in South Africa.

The point is made, or at least there is speculation about the shale gas reserves under the Karoo. Two sources, amongst others, the US Geological Survey and the International Energy Agency first floated figures of 1000tcf (trillion cubic feet). Their latest estimates (now less than half), widely proclaimed by Prof Philip Lloyd and Shell are in the order of 450 to 480tcf, and are 90 times more than the estimates of PASA’s geologist, Ms. Jennifer Marot. Meanwhile, Dr. Billy De Klerk, a geohydrologist and paleontologist presented a paper in Grahamstown during a debate on fracking, which made a strong case for there being very much less than any of these estimates. And of ten core samples from Soekor in the 1960’s, only three showed faint traces of shale gas (Shell’s figures).

There may be much ado about nothing.

Water, of course, is probably the central issue. Shell doesn’t know where they will find it. Even were they able to extract and use water from deep saline aquifers, they would still have to drill through the underground water sources of the Karoo. Their own engineers have admitted that the Karoo is criss-crossed by dolerite sills and dykes – not an environment that stimulates easy drilling.

Once the water (if obtained from underground) has been used as fracking fluid, it contains not only the chemicals that the drillers add to it, but almost certainly technologically-enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials (TENORM). Where will this be disposed of? Into rivers, quarries, the sea, evaporated into our air to return as acid rain or perhaps sprayed on to our roads as in the US? Certainly, the wastewater facilities in Pennsylvania have refused to accept any more frackwater – how then do we imagine that our own municipal plants will have the technology and management expertise to deal with this?

Our transport and road infrastructure

If not drawn from underground, the water will presumably come from the sea or the Orange River. Has anybody done the sums of exactly how many trucks are needed to lubricate one well at 20 million litres per frack? And what that volume of trucks will do to our already crumbling road network. This discounts the fragile dirt roads in the Karoo and the vast dust clouds that follow even one truck on the powdery surface.

Although much of the focus is on what happens underground, there is a staggering amount of activity above ground. Figures from the Pennsylvania Dept of Environment show 1667 truckloads to service one well (there are potentially 8 – 12 wells on one pad). Add to this, the noise, dust, gas emissions and light pollution 24 hours a day, and consider the effects on a uniquely biodiverse region – a surface that cannot be rehabilitated and as Shell claims ‘left better than it was found.’

Regulation and law enforcement are also not an area in which South Africa has great capacity. And if the Americans are battling to police the drillers how is it planned that South Africa will regulate the industry in the absence of applicable laws and enforcement capability. This point is supported by the thorough mining mess in Gauteng and Mpumalanga and begs the question – even if we can regulate, monitor and enforce, who will pay for this? The costs of training, vehicles, buildings, communication, burden on courts and municipalities?

In the interests of brevity, my comment must stop here, with a concluding statement.

As an environmentalist I am frequently accused by proponents of fracking of being ‘emotional.’ My assertion is that there is a difference between emotional and committed. TKAG is also well informed. Prof. De Witt on national radio stated that ‘No one in their right mind would trust Shell to police their own operation’ and explained this by referring to the distortion of data by the oil and gas industry. I agree. And so does the Advertising Standards Authority.

It is our position, as an ngo, representative of interested and affected parties and as a campaigner for the rights of many people who know nothing of fracking, that South Africa has a long way to go before it can be conclusively proved that fracking is the only – and best option to sustainably supply South Africa’s energy needs and create work. Until these questions are answered, there is no justification to issue any form of exploration licence.

[1] DE Wit MJ. The great shale debate in the Karoo, S AFR J Sci. 2011;107(7/8), Art. 791

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Aus farmers stand up to fracking

Farm gate gas protest gathers steam

Updated: 12:01, Sunday August 14, 2011

Farm gate gas protest gathers steam

Thousands of farm gates across Queensland and NSW bear a yellow triangle with the words 'lock the gate'.

The triangle hangs like a talisman, desperately trying to ward off a great evil.

It's part of a campaign to stop mining giants from walking on to properties and drilling in the search for coal seam gas (CSG).

So far farmers swear by it, believing their efforts are hampering the companies.

The situation has forged an unlikely alliance, with farmers and environmental activists alike willing to stand in front of bulldozers.

More than 2000 land owners in Queensland and New South Wales have adopted the lock the gate signs, and some are prepared to roll up to protests.

They're concerned that fracking - the injection of chemicals, water and sand at high pressures to crack rock and release gas - will poison underground water, contaminate good agricultural soil and cause serious health problems.

CSG companies are yet to provide proof fracking won't impact on ground water farmers use on crops, animals and in some cases for their own consumption.

In the United States, fracking has contaminated aquifers with some residents able to set their water on fire.

The US department of environmental protection has found dangerously high levels of methane, iron and aluminium in the drinking water of residents in Dimock, Pennsylvania, where shale-gas drilling and fracking takes place.

England, France, New York and South Africa have banned fracking because of environmental and health issues.

Australian farmers fighting the industry have attracted high profile support from Olivia Newton-John, Alan Jones, Bob Irwin and Senator Barnaby Joyce.

Gas leases in Queensland and New South Wales already cover an area ten times the size of Tasmania, the campaigners say.

They want a moratorium on CSG mining until all health, social and environmental risks have been fully explored.

But despite the groundswell of support for the farmers, they face one major hurdle.

In tricky economic times, state and federal governments are banking on the gas rush to boost the economy.

Just one of the three CSG export projects approved in Queensland is expected to earn the governments $1 billion a year in taxes and royalties.

CSG wells are spreading like bushfire across Queensland, a state struggling to regain its AAA credit rating, reduce debt and create more jobs.

It's mainly affecting agricultural land, including the major food bowl area of the Darling Downs, west of Brisbane.

Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser says the CSG to liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry will generate more than 20 million tonnes per annum and, crucially, create 18,000 jobs.

'It's a critical part of the economic policy we've pursued,' Mr Fraser said.

'We committed to delivering this industry at the last election and that's what we're doing.

'It's a whole new export industry for the state.'

Mr Fraser said he understands the concern over fracking but argues that Queensland has 'world class regulation'.

'There's more than 1700 conditions on these projects,' he said.

'It's also not a new industry.

'Coal seam gas exploration and extraction has been conducted safely now for more than a decade (in Queensland).'

The government has also banned the use of cancer-causing chemicals, collectively known as BTEX, in fracking fluids.

But a group of medical experts, including 1996 Nobel Prize winner for medicine Professor Peter Doherty, argue this doesn't go far enough.

Their submission to a Senate inquiry into CSG says fracking itself can release BTEX chemicals that naturally exist in the coal seams.

'The fracking process itself can release BTEX from natural gas reservoirs, allowing them to escape into aquifers or the surrounding air,' the submission says.

'BTEX chemicals have been found after at least two fracking operations in Queensland.'

The experts say long-term exposure to the chemicals can cause leukaemia, affect the reproductive system and harm unborn children.

'BTEX chemicals (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene) are frequently found together in petroleum compounds,' they write.

'They are in a class of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds which easily vaporise so people can be exposed through drinking water, bathing or breathing in vapour.

'Long-term exposure to benzene for instance, even in very small amounts, can affect the bone marrow, causing anaemia and increasing the risk of leukaemia, and can affect unborn children.'

But CSG companies say there's no proof fracking will contaminate aquifers.

QGC, a subsidiary of global gas giant BG Group, says 99 per cent of the fracking fluid is sand and water.

'If I went into the kitchen I could find many of those chemicals (used in fracking),' QGC senior vice-president Jim Knudsen told a Rural Press Club address in July.

'Ketchup has some guar gum in it. Potassium chloride is a salt substitute.

'The chemicals are used in such small dosage it is immeasurable once we're done.'

Mr Knudsen said the chemicals allow the gas to flow more easily and limit the number of wells needed.

He said good design of pipes or wells would stop groundwater contamination.

But his assurances give Lock the Gate Alliance president Drew Hutton no comfort.

He's driving the resistance in the bush and is vowing to up the ante at the next Queensland election due by March next year.

'The next election will be won and lost on this issue,' Mr Hutton said.

'We are going to put pressure on the political parties and will campaign against anyone who won't install the appropriate protections.'

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Digg
  • Delicious
  • Buzz
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fracking demonstration in Cape Town

Fracking demos take to streets
2011-08-09 15:49

Cape Town - Demonstrators wearing gas masks, lab coats to emulate scientists from oil company Shell protested in Cape Town on Tuesday against hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale gas.

Shell SA is punting shale gas as an affordable alternative to coal, nuclear and renewable energy industries and wants to explore 90 000km² of the Karoo.

The protesters included a man dressed up as a cane wielding silent film actor Charlie Chaplin, claim that fracking is causing massive contamination of water supplies and is mostly affecting women and children who live in the areas where it occurs.

"Fracking will not affect just the Karoo. It may affect about half of South Africa's landmass including areas in the Drakensberg," said Marina Louw, an organiser from Climate Justice Campaign which took part in the demonstration with environmental organisation Earthlife Africa.

"A lot of the waste water from fracking may be discharged into rivers and the chemicals may leach up radioactivity under ground.

"Water becomes your blood plasma and spinal fluid.

"The most vulnerable people are rural women and children because they live in these areas and many get their water from where fracking water is dumped."

The protesters who had gathered outside the Natural History Museum in the Company's Gardens in the Cape Town city centre held up banners reading, "Stop fracking with our water", "Frack off" and "Fracking poisons".

"I'm a musician and I'm going to write a song about this," one of the older male protesters said.

"You know they have the slogan 'go well go Shell', well my lyrics will be 'go well go to hell'."

The protester impersonating Chaplin did not answer when asked about the significance of his costume, but instead raised his cane and mimed a choking motion.

He then pulled a gas mask over his face and coughed before joining the protesters who marched into Cape Town shouting repeatedly: "Fracking no... Clean energy now and forever".