Open letter to Shell regarding fracking in the Karoo

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 24 March 2011

By: Jeremy Westgarth-Taylor – pioneer of Water Rhapsody Conservation Systems

The points in the letter below will be raised by Jeremy Westgarth-Taylor in a meeting with Shell scheduled for 16:00 on 25 March 2011 at  Sports Science Centre in Newlands, Cape Town

Dear Shell, I have done a study of other frackers, and I see no difference between you and others elsewhere worldwide, what with the lack of transparency and downright lies.

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

Fracking in our Karoo is not something that we simply don’t want.  We are not going to have it.  It will not go ahead if nothing else because of the strength of our consumerism.  This is not Nigeria where Shell can simply do what Shell pleases.

You and your minions Golder have promised us a lot of things during our meetings, the answers to questions which have not been answered and at best have been obfuscated.  Are you lying or simply being economical with the truth in these examples?

For instance; when asked about the toxic compounds that you intend to introduce into the earth, after drillings have been completed, to start your fracking process your Adam Dodson said in one or more meetings:

1.     One of the chemicals used in fracking is also used in ice cream.
2.     The chemicals were something which you would report in the EMP proposal – (which is not there).
3.     The Chemicals are of proprietary nature and could not expose them.
4.     Could not tell us because the geology differs in every area from place to place.

Clearly and succinctly answer which of these is the correct answer. And let us know whether diesel is one of the ingredients. Why don’t you give us the list of all the possible ingredients for this purpose?

We read in the newspapers conflicting things and on the basis of the conflicting items we need some answers.

You say that PASA (Petroleum Agency of South Africa) exempted you from submitting exact site proposals. You have even given chapter and verse of the act (MPRDA 2002).  This Claim has been dispelled by Graaff-Rienet attorney Derek Light who said that PASA had no authority to exempt anyone from the provisions of the act. This is a question of integrity. You do not have exemption because PASA deny having given you exemption. Were you lying when you made this claim? Derek has the letter from the CEO of PASA stating that ‘no exemptions made, including Shell’

Source of water:  You are on record as having said that “we will not compete with farmers over water”. There is only enough water in the Karoo to sustain farmers. What if you find water below 300 metres?  Will you then say that it is fine to use this water because we are not competing with farmers, even though it may lower the water table or directly affect the aquifers closer to the surface?  You cannot say this is not going to happen because there is no research on the inter-relationship between the aquifers, and such research would take 5 years.

1.     Do you deny that you intend using the Karoo’s Groundwater?
2.     Do you as you stated intend to drill up to eleven kilometres for water?  If so:
a.     What is the quality of the water at that level?
b.     Does this water resemble the salinity of sea water?
c.      How much of this water will become artesian, and for the sake of those who don’t understand this term, this simply means water that rises to the surface.  After all, this is the case at Kuruman which is not so far away.
3.     Do you intend using AMD water in your drilling and fracking process as stated to parliament by Jennifer Marot of PASA?
4.     What in short do you know of the water below 300 metres in the Great Karoo?  Nobody else seems to know anything at all.
5.     Can you guaranty that if you find water below 300 metres that this water will not pollute either groundwater or surface water, and if you are not able to guaranty that, what guaranties are you offering for reparation for damage done?  No guaranties will be good enough as reparation because once water is polluted the damage is not worth any amount of money.  Water is priceless in the Karoo.

Why, when you declare that your environmental impacts on your drilling activities will be “low”, as stated in your EMP, will you not name the characteristic chemicals in your drilling and fracking process? Surely we need the ingredients for anyone, government or policing body, to check up on you?

I now refer to one of your advertisements in the newspaper.  How much did you pay for this drivel and propaganda? (page 12 Argus Tuesday March 15 2011.)

Allay fears:

You are dealing with poor communities in the Karoo.  Communities will not have money to go to court to prove claims from your fracking activities. In my opinion you and your minion Golder are guilty of lies of the worst kind.

To allay our concerns, and after all I think we have caught you out lying at every intersection over this application: the courts are very expensive in South Africa.  You have also spent a lot of money on these applications and are by all appearances hell bent on turning South Africa into another Nigeria. Are you prepared to put say a billion Rand into trust for these communities to use in the event of likely claims before proceeding with any fracking work whatsoever?  Will you fight each and every case after people have died from the carcinogens and any other poisonous malaise in your fracking process, or will you need them to prove ‘direct negative impact’ as a result of your operations, and I ask you who is going to get this right against Shell?

Many uses of the gas has been postulated, carting it to market, firing up gas fired power stations etc.

In the unlikely event that you do get it right to do your fracking all over the 90 000 square kilometers of the Karoo:

1.     What do you intend doing with the gas?
2.     Why is this gas better than coal in terms of its total carbon emissions?  There is no science to support lower carbon emissions.
3.     What are you going to do with the condensate?

Let it be on the record right now that there is at present not one single borehole polluted with hydrocarbons in the Great Karoo.  If anyone should be presented with ethane, methane, propane, butane, or benzene in their boreholes, or any other hydrocarbons for that matter, are you first going to ask them to prove it or will you accept responsibility?

A question for Tony Curtis (once a South African):  You now live in Quebec where a moratorium has been placed on fracking. You have been asked this question before and you could not provide an affirmative answer. “Can you 100% guaranty our environment will not be contaminated by Shell?” previously you could not provide this, and after all your propaganda bought in the newspapers, are you now able to provide this guaranty?

Are Shell looking into sustainable and renewable energy sources such as sun and wind power rather than – environmentally hazardous and air polluting – energy augmentation schemes? We would welcome that, and after all you have already invested in Solar projects elsewhere in the world, so why not here?

Finally: What is it going to take for you and your whole team to go and do your fracking somewhere else? Is it going to take for South Africa to boycott all Shell service stations with protesters on the road outside each and every station?

Why not bow out now before you deepen the drivel holes of spin and lies that you have spun around your fracking proposals?

20 thoughts on “Open letter to Shell regarding fracking in the Karoo


    Shell has fuelled armed conflict in Nigeria by paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to feuding militant groups, according to an investigation by the oil industry watchdog Platform, and a coalition of non-government organizations.

    The oil giant is implicated in a decade of human rights abuses in the Niger delta, the study says, claiming that its routine payments exacerbated local violence, in one case leading to the deaths of 60 people and the destruction of an entire town.

    Platform’s investigation, which includes testimony from Shell’s own managers, also alleges that government forces hired by Shell perpetrated atrocities against local civilians, including unlawful killings and systematic torture.

    Shell disputes the report, defending its human rights record and questioning the accuracy of the evidence, but has pledged to study the recommendations.

    In Counting the Cost: Corporations and Human Rights in the Niger Delta, Platform says that it has seen testimony and contracts that implicate Shell in the regular awarding of lucrative contracts to militants. In one case last year, Shell is said to have transferred more than $159,000 (£102,000) to a group credibly linked to militia violence.

    One gang member, Chukwu Azikwe, told Platform: “We were given money and that is the money we were using to buy ammunition, to buy this bullet, and every other thing to eat and to sustain the war.” He said his gang and its leader, SK Agala, had vandalised Shell pipelines. “They will pay ransom. Some of them in the management will bring out money, dole out money into this place, in cash.”

    The gang became locked in competition witha rival group over access to oil money, with payments to one faction provoking a violent reaction from the other. “The [rival gang] will come and fight, some will die, just to enable them to also get [a] share. So the place now becomes a contest ground for warring factions. Who takes over the community has the attention of the company.”

    Platform alleges that it was highly likely that Shell knew that thousands of dollars paid per month to militants in the town of Rumuekpe was used to sustain a bitter conflict. “Armed gangs waged pitched battles over access to oil money, which Shell distributed to whichever gang controlled access to its infrastructure.”

    Rumuekpe is “the main artery of Shell’s eastern operations in Rivers state”, with a roundabout 100,000 barrels of oil flowing per day, approximately10% of Shell’s daily production in the country. Shell distributed “community development” funds and contracts via Friday Edu, a youth leader and Shell community liaison officer, the report said, an exclusive arrangement that magnified the risk of communal tension and conflict.

    By 2005, Edu’s monopoly over the resources of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) had sparked a leadership tussle with Agala’s group. The latter was reportedly forced out of the community and a number of people killed. Dozens of gang members and residents reportedly died in counter raids by Agala.

    The inter-communal violence killed an estimated 60 people, including women and children, from 2005-08. Thousands more were displaced by fighting that left homes, schools and churches in ruins. Many still suffer severe malnutrition, poverty and homelessness.

    Platform says the local conflict soon created regional instability. Displaced villagers were hunted down in the regional capital, Port Harcourt, and killed in their homes, schools and workplaces. Gangs active in Rumuekpe collaborated with prominent criminal networks in Rivers state and doubled as Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) militants.

    Mend’s activity in Rumuekpe seriously disrupted Shell’s operations and sent shockwaves through world markets, the report notes, yet Shell paid little heed. One of the corporation’s managers was alarmingly candid: “One good thing about their crisis was that they never for one day stopped us from production.”

    Platform interviewed Ex-gang members claimed Shell exacerbated the conflict by providing regular funding to both factions throughout.

    In 2006, Shell is alleged to have awarded maintenance contracts relating to its oil wells, the Trans-Niger pipeline, its booster station and flowstation to Edu’s gang. But after Agala’s counter-raid left Rumuekpe “littered” with corpses, Shell apparently switched sides and started paying Agala. It paid whoever controlled access, even if they were known criminal gangs, Platform claims.

    The allegations of ex-gang members were largely substantiated by the testimony of a Shell official, Platform claims. A manager confirmed that in 2006, one of the most violent years, Shell awarded six types of contract in Rumuekpe. Thousands of dollars flowed from Shell to the armed gangs each month.

    The company eventually terminated some, though not all, of the contracts. But by then the violence had reached the Shell flow station. A Shell manager, whose name has been withheld, is quoted as saying: “Somebody came in [to the flow station] and cut off somebody’s hand. We had to vacate the place. We stopped the contract entirely.”

    Other contracts to “maintain the pipeline right of way” continued throughout the entire conflict, as did one-off contracts created in response to specific threats, the report found.

    Matthew Chizi, a local youth leader, said: “[Shell] were going to their job, doing their operation, servicing their manifold. They never cared that people were dying. They never did anything to call the crisis to order. Rather they were using military to intimidate the community.”

    Platform’s report offers a damning assessment: “Shell was highly likely to be aware that it was helping to fuel the conflict in Rumuekpe, since company workers visited the community on a regular basis. Even if Shell was somehow unaware of the violence, media reports were publicly available.

    “Members of the community reportedly wrote to Shell to request that the company stop awarding contracts to gang leaders such as Friday Edu. Through Shell’s routine practices and responses to threats, the company became complicit in the cycle of violence. “It adds: “The Rumuekpe crisis was entirely avoidable… Shell operated for decades without an MoU, polluted the community and distributed ‘community development’ funds through an individual who had lost the confidence of the community. Once conflict erupted, Shell paid the perpetrators of gross human rights abuses as long as they controlled access to oil infrastructure. The cumulative impact of Shell’s mistakes was devastating.”

    Rumuekpe is just one of several case studies examined by the report which alleges, that in 2009 and 2010, security personnel guarding Shell facilities were responsible for extra-judicial killings and torture in Ogoniland. Platform calls on the corporation to break ties with government forces and other armed groups responsible for abuses, and to clean up environmental damage.

    Rumuekpe is just one of several case studies examined by the report which alleges, that in 2009 and 2010, security personnel guarding Shell facilities were responsible for extra-judicial killings and torture in Ogoniland.

    Shell insisted that it respected human rights and was committed to working with Nigeria to ensure that the country benefited from its natural resources. “We have long acknowledged that the legitimate payments we make to contractors, as well as the social investments we make in the Niger delta region may cause friction in and between communities,” a spokesman said. “We nevertheless work hard to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of the benefits of our presence

  2. This is a question for Tony Cortis of Shell. Tony, do you align yourself with the advert placed in South African press by Shell, that claims “There has never been a a single documented case of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing.”? Yes or no?
    Thanks, Jonathan Deal

  3. Sally

    I actually have a bit of experience with fraccing so let me comment.

    I looked at your “evidence”. A bog letter claiming there isn’t a drink of fresh water left in Alberta” hardly counts as more than a rant. Where is the EVIDENCE?

    I mean if I just call you a moron it doesn’t mean you are unless I provide evidence…right? Like showing someone cites crap to whip up passions.

    Also note frac communication between wells – within the shale – is a good thing. Fracs grow outwards several hundred meters parallel to maximum stress direction (not that you’d understand) but do not grow vertically more thanks tens of meters. That is a fact proven by hundreds of peer reviewed scientific papers in e.g. The SPE Journal. Refute those please.
    This so called communication happens laterally within the shale between two horizontal well legs. It is a desired effect in a zipper frac (again I don’t expect you to know what that means).

    I suggest you stick to your manure instead of spewing crap. Check your facts at proper sources before making wild claims.

    Oh and that lady in Rosebud? That was coal bed methane, not shale gas. but again, Iwouldn’t expect someone like you to have a glimmer of what the difference between the two is.


  4. Dear Tony…

    Cases of water pollution in Alberta are documented all over the web.

    They say there isn’t a drink of fresh water left in Alberta… that the wells are all tainted with sulphur. AND THESE ARE NOT THE ONES WITH MORE SERIOUS CONTAMINATION.

    IE. Anthony Ingraffea, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University and one of the continent’s foremost experts on fracking, told Partiff that as soon as highly pressurized fracking fluids “gets through the cracks that you have created and reaches a joint system that has been there for many years, the joints open in unpredictable ways.” ie contaminating nearby water sources.

    To date B.C.’s Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) has reported 18 “fracture communication incidents” in which sand or chemicals injected into one well abruptly pop up in nearby gas wells 670 metres away.

    Is there really anything else to say. Shell’s reputation, after years of unsavoury business practices, is in tatters. You are a liar (or just dumb, I don’t know) and Shell’s history of lying is well documented. There’s that great book. Riding the Fossil Fuel Dragon, documenting Shell activities in Nigeria over decades. Shell’s activity there can only be called eco-terrorism. There are so many ways to make a good live and enjoy a good life in the world. Why work for Shell? We love our planet and we are working on finding new solutions for energy. It seems Shell would like to destroy as much as it can before we do that. That is clearly Shell’s business strategy. Well we don’t want your fracking and we don’t understand your lies, Shell’s stonewalling when there’s a problem, lack of willingness to engage for the benefit of all. We can create methane from our sewerage plants and animal farms… This is the field I work in. Most of all, we are not afraid of you and we are not afraid of our petrol pumps drying up and so we don’t have to deceive ourselves and believe your lifes. I am already boycotting shell because it uses it’s platform as petrol retailers to punt pro karoo fracking pamphlets in it’s shell shops. Soon, we will hold demonstrations at shell garages. There are so many amazing technologies, viruses growing batteries, solar etc, coming online. WE DON’T NEED YOU IN SOUTH AFRICA AND WE DON’T WANT YOU. Hell, if we want a nasty oil company polluter to frack up the karoo, we’ll use sasol, who we can keep an eye on, and at least boost the government pension funds. SHELL NOW OUT!

  5. It seems that Shell thinks that the people of South Africa and in particular those who are residents of the Karoo are illiterate fools who would prostitute their heritage just for some money. The rest of South Africa needs to take the fight to Shell and let them know that we will NOT allow them to ruin our beautiful land – this not only affects the people of the Karoo, but our country as a whole.

  6. “Re: A question for Tony Curtis (once a South African):  You now live in Quebec where a moratorium has been placed on fracking. You have been asked this question before and you could not provide an affirmative answer. “Can you 100% guaranty our environment will not be contaminated by Shell?” previously you could not provide this, and after all your propaganda bought in the newspapers, are you now able to provide this guaranty?”

    Thanks for your questions – delivered last Friday at the public meeting and in this letter. I welcome the opportunity for frank, open, respectful, discussion of issues that are of great importance to South Africans.

    3 responses here to the questions directed specifically to me in this letter:

    Firstly, despite a report in the media that is quite inaccurate and poorly researched, my home Province in Canada is Alberta, not Quebec.  In Alberta, many thousands of wells are safely stimulated using hydraulic fracturing each year. The water remains pure and the air clean. I encourage readers to do their own research on the use of fraccing in Alberta by visiting e.g. The Government of Alberta websites or the site of the regulatory body, the Alberta Energy Utilities Board (AEUB).

    Secondly the issue of Quebec. Shale Gas drilling is very new in Quebec. Only a relative handful of new wells have been fracced in the Province as companies assess the potential for shale gas. The measured response by the government is not to outright ban hydraulic fracturing. Rather it is a measured, scientifically driven program to gather data to allow a future more permanent decision. The moratorium on fraccing announced by the Quebec government is not an outright ban. A limited number of exploratory wells will still be issued permits to frac – so long as those fracs are closely monitored and the data provided to the government. The government of Quebec will make it’s own decision on the future of fraccing based on it’s own research in it’s own jurisdiction.

    Lastly I can honestly stand behind statements I have made in public repeatedly over the last few weeks. I can guarantee you that so long as wells are drilled properly and proper barriers installed to isolate the well bore from shallow groundwater aquifers, there is no chance of pollution or contamination of those waters during the fraccing process at depth. 

    Proper handling, transport and disposal of frac fluids post fraccing will also avoid any groundwater contamination, although (as I stated publicly) one prevent every eventuality, such as road traffic accidents. However, if such incidents as a road accident occur, spills will be limited in extent. In any incident related to it’s operations Shell is committed to immediately clean up any release, protect the environment and repair any damage.

    My children live in Alberta. My retired parents live in Ontario. I have no concerns about their heath as the result of fraccing or extraction of natural gas. Without the benefit of clean-burning natural gas – largely coming from fracced wells, they would literally “freeze in the dark”. I can honestly look anyone in the face and state that I believe fraccing, properly executed, is safe.


    Anthony (Tony) Cortis
    Shell China Exploration and Production Company Limited

  7. Attention Dave.! Bunny Hugger indeed! There are many of us that enjoy and love the sunshine and wish that these and other multinationals would wake up and put ALL their money into renewable energy ONLY! Solar, wind etc.
    Fracking is a violation of the gifts of the earth. A very short sighted plan and can only leave a trashed environment for all life on earth.
    Shell has poluted many areas of this planet in its endeavours to exploit fossil fools from the earth. I am one of millions that don’t beleive their “Green Washing” at all!
    Research:- Vandana Shiva (Soil not OIL) Power to the earthworm.

  8. Thanks for comitting to record the feelings of many, and adressed to the source of the potential devastation. Having spent 5 years in Nigeria and witnessed first hand the damage to the local ecology in the name of prosperity for the local communites I can only endorse your concerns in the strongest possible terms – there is no way of fixing this after the event!

  9. Thank you for taking time and writing this letter. So many people are too wrapped up with their own troubles they forget about what’s happening around them. As South africans we must constantly stand together. THis in turn will encourage the rest of the world that by working and fighting for what is right,doing this in unison, manifests to great rewards.The earth is a beautiful gift given to humans and we don’t show much respect for this beautiful gift. It’s a wonderful, extraordinary planet for humans and so far the only planet for humans to enjoy life. Let’s keep it this way! WE can’t eat money, is this what you want for yourself and generations to come?
    Thank you once again for this letter.

  10. @”Dave from Capetown”: Fracking will NOT bring work to the Karoo. Shell stated that in the beginning (and Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor believed them and repeated that message) but later had to admit that it won’t be the case! It’s just one of their lies. Most anti’s are very well informed about the subject at hand, you obviously not.

  11. @ Dave of Cape Town, the one dissenting voice so far: those who are anti-fracking ARE looking at the bigger picture – the long term health of our only home, Planet Earth, versus short term greed for energy which we squander anyway. What happens when all the gas is gone? we will then still have to look to renewable sources of energy so why not start RIGHT NOW by conserving, reducing demand, changing the way we operate as a society. No one thinks it will be easy but it will be a lot easier than watching our land die slowly and finding only poisoned water coming out of the taps – if any at all comes out.

  12. I hate these bunny-hugging, kneejerk reactions to schemes which will bring prosperity and much needed employment to this poor area of South Africa.
    Sadly, your sycophantic commenters will only consider one side of the story. They will all tell us about “that documentary film” which was made by more bunny-huggers and shows that ALL FRACKING IS BAD, because that’s what the film makers wanted them to think and that’s what they want to think.
    Shell could give you all the guarantys [sic] in the world and you’d still choose to ignore or disbelieve them, so why should they bother?
    Your mind is made up (as is your prerogative), but I’d value your opinions far more highly if you had bothered to look at the bigger picture instead of just reeling out the same old arguments.

  13. thank you!

    How can we dissuade politicians & officials from taking bribes to rubberstamp permission for fracking? Perhaps promises of scrutiny, of insiders at SARS keeping a check on them & their lovers & relatives for sudden unexplained signs of excess?

  14. Very well put. I have yet to come across one report where someone had anything positive to say about fracking near their properties.
    The overwhelming body of evidence is that it is bad, so why is our government and Shell not accepting the reality – learn from the the experience and put it behind.
    I am not taken in by the Shell spin and if they are not prepared to be totally transparent about the fracking chemicals, then what are they trying to hide?
    It seems to me that there is more money to be made in the process than will have to be paid out in compensation.

  15. Thank you Jeremy you have said it all and said it perfectly. In the end we will get Shell even out of the slightest thought of harming the Karoo. Thank you.

  16. To Ms Nosipho Ngcaba, Director-General DEAT and Dr Nompumelelo Siswana PetroSA the decision you make in regards to Fracking in the Great Karoo will define you in years to come, once you have made your choice know that the people of the Karoo and the future generations of South Africa will hold you accountable.
    Jeremy get them to hear you.

  17. Tony Fortis told the meeting at Somerset East that only 3% of the stuff they will force into the ground is chemicals, so that we are expected to believe it’s not dangerous. “It’s like the stuff in hair shampoo,” he said. What he didn’t say is that many of the chemicals are actually toxic at minimal amounts (7 parts per million) and include diesel oil.
    He said 40-60% or more of this mixture is driven back out of the well by the pressure of the gas, but he didn’t tell us that it will then have to be stored in slime pits, where leakage is likely, and where evaporation of toxic volatile compounds is inevitable.
    One of the Shell reps told a member of the audience later, that it didn’t matter how much we objected, Shell would be drilling in the Karoo within two years! Well, that was pretty transparent.

  18. Thank you for being the voice of thousands of concerned citizens. My friends and family stand behind you in your threat to boycott Shell. For every person I know, there are 20 more (growing exponentially)who will do this gladly.

  19. well written but maybe you just want to check the spelling of guarantee and guarantees. It#ll just look better. I wish you well and watch with interest

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