Fracking the Karoo and unanswered questions

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 07 February 2011

Shell, Sasol and Bundu are names of companies that are going through application processes to drill exploration holes very deep into the ground in the Karoo in search of water and gas.

Millions of litres of water are needed for fracking - per drilling site.

Shell has opened up a can of worms with their public participation meetings, and there are too many questions that have been unanswered; though the questions have been asked of them directly.

To drill explorative holes, and to look for water at limitless depths, Shell has applied for an EMP (Environmental Management Plan). I am not aware of how deep existing boreholes go down to get water for farming purposes, but all of the farmers say that there is just enough water for them to exist in that harsh environment.  Other hydro-geologists say that there is no more water for any purposes whatsoever in the Karoo.

At the outset, it must be stressed that the problems relating to “chemical fracking” are all about water.

How much water is needed by Shell for drilling and fracking? Shell and the others need millions of litres of water per drilling site, but nobody is willing to say how many drilling sites there are in their proposals, nor how many millions of litres are needed per drilling site.

Will Shell compete with farmers for water? If there is a finite volume in the fossil aquifer, and Shell is to extract more water than before, it is only logical that there will be less water than before. The process may go ahead without any research as to the re-charge of the aquifer. A full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should be done to find these facts out.

What will the exploration process do to the aquifer/s in the Karoo? Nobody has drilled any exploration holes as deep as the holes that Shell plans to do.  Shell is prepared to drill up to eleven thousand metres below the surface, some ten thousand metres below sea level to get water. This water could very well be the salinity of sea water (nobody knows), and might be under huge pressure and become artesian which means that sea water could be gushing out to the surface.  At best, saline water will infiltrate the aquifers and create conduits for mixing of the aquifers.

Once exploration is over and the fracking for gas begins, what are the chemicals used to mix with sand and saline water to start the fracking process? Shell persistently refuses to answer this question. They have though made some ludicrous statement about one of them being the same as chemical used to make ice cream. What is more likely, and the reason for their secrecy, is toluene (poisonous hydrocarbons); and other hazardous mixtures and compounds that would normally be compulsory by law to cart away by specialist contractors.  These contractors need to dump these in special places that cannot pollute groundwater. These self same chemicals, legally classified “hazardous” would be pumped into deep holes in the Karoo by explorers looking for gas.

Who cleans up after Shell and others have extracted all of the gas, and moved on? Shell refuses to give any guarantees, whether pecuniary or other, to provide for a cleanup process. We have ample mining disasters in this country that we are not able to fix in a satisfactory and sustainable manner. AMD (Acid Mine Drainage) is an excellent example of this, and this too relates to water.  Several coal and gold mining companies that were listed companies, mined out the merchandise, closed down their operations and abandoned the mines.  Within some years, the rising water has reached the surface.  This water contains strong sulphuric acid with a pH of less than 3, contains Radon Iridium and Uranium, as well as cyanide. The risen water has polluted rivers all around Gauteng and Mpumalanga. The health and safety of the rivers is the job of the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) to fix, and this is a government department, which means that it is the taxpayer that pays for the cleanup, not the mining company. This is patently unfair.

What is Shell planning to do with the gas? Burn it and make electricity on site or near the gas fields. Get ready for this picture. Gas turbine factory type buildings, chimneys and security lights dotted all over the Karoo, until the gas runs out. This process of course will spew further tons of CO2 in the atmosphere. Remember that South Africa is already the highest per capita polluter of the atmosphere from power stations in the world!

Are there any sustainably viable options for the area? Yes lots! There is more than a half million square kilometres of land space for clean energy sources.  This includes the great Karoo, Little Karoo, the Kalahari, where photovoltaic panel farms could be created in a clean but scattered basis, at a far less expensive rate. On one square kilometre one can provide more than 200 megawatts of power.  To give you some idea of that amount of power: this is 200 000 kilowatt hours for say an average of 10 hours. Three hundred of these scattered around the country should provide enough clean energy for the whole of the needs of our country including motorized transport, domestic needs as well as industry and commerce.  Add in a few large wind generators, and for cloudy days, we would have plentiful energy to be able to close all of our carbon dioxide making coal fired power stations, not to mention the troublesome nuclear powered stations – present and planned.

The one thing about South Africa is we have lots of space for this clean technology. What we don’t have is the will. The will is held by a government that owns the power stations and the monopoly of power generation supply.

We need to stop Shell and anyone else that wants to potentially damage our land.  We need at the same time to embark on a new generation of power supply as well.

What we need most of all though is water!

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