What are the merits of fracking?

By: Jeremy Westgarth-Taylor

Test results indicate that at least one common fracking chemical has contaminated drinking water in the town of Pavillion, Wyoming.

How strange it is that a department DEA (Department of Environmental Affairs) which ironically shares a ministerial portfolio with Water Affairs (DWEA) should suggest that fracking be given a chance and saying that there was “merit” in carrying out some hydraulic fracturing.  There were no merits in what was reported though the report did mention one demerit in what they had said viz – “the avoidance of the contamination of fresh water resources” in the Karoo.  So what in fact are the merits of fracking?  As there were no meritorious things mentioned we have a chance to look at some of the negative things.


  • Shell’s employees are on record as having said that they wish to burn the methane gas produced from fracking wells on their pad sites.  These pads will be on somebodies farmlands, and they plan to generate electricity from the burning of the gas thus sending millions of tons of carbon dioxide per annum into the air.  This will supplement the CO2 already generated in South Africa from the burning of coal.  The question should be asked why use fossil fuels to generate electricity? Have they not heard that economists agree that it is now less expensive to generate electricity with renewables such as from photo voltaic panels i.e. solar energy than by using fossil fuels. 
  • Forever is a long time.  The process of well drilling involves a huge hole some four and a half kilometres into the ground and a lot further horizontally.  The frackers say that they will seal the sides of the hole to some depth with steel and concrete and do their methane extraction.  The concrete and steel they say will prevent gas and the toxic cocktail they use for fracking from escaping.  Furthermore Shell say that these will not leak, but they cannot guarantee this.  It takes only one of the tens of thousands of possible wells drilled to eventually leak, and the water in the Karoo will be spoilt forever.  Fracking in itself, causes earthquakes and each new drill hole may cause a previous capped hole to rupture.  The results – methane escaping into the groundwater.
  • The next problem is the methane that escapes while the methane extraction itself is taking place.  In the USA the estimate for the amount of escaping methane is 4%.  This forms a whopping 28% of the sum total of all the escaping methane in the USA.  This is on spite of all the policing of the fracking there.  in South Africa we have no such police, and any recruits would easily be led astray with a very small bribe.
  • Those advocating fracking say that say that the methane gas produced is much cleaner and less harmful the environment. That is true, but that does not include the flaring off of the harmful gases on their pads. The sum total of the gases are equally bad as coal.
  • Shell say glibly that the returning toxic fracking fluids from the drill holes which jet up the well once the shale is fractured, would be dammed and taken away to municipalities for treatment in the  municipal sewerage treatment works.  Let us be absolutely clear about this: There is not a single sewerage treatment works in South Africa that could deal with this carcinogenic cocktail of fluids that will contain radioactive matter as well.
  • Water:  where will the water come from to drill 60 000 wells several times, each frack requiring 20 million litres of water?  Shell say that they will truck in sea water!  The volume of sea water required is far bigger than the volume of water in the Vaal Dam.  This water would all be carried by road!  Even worse for our roads would be that the truckloads of sea water would be a fraction of the total stuff that needs to be trucked backward and forward.
  • As for the sister department – Water Affairs, this department has found itself having to find billions of Rand for a solution to AMD (Acid Mine Drainage) and half a trillion of Rand for rapidly worsening countrywide sewerage and water treatment works, they now openly promote the merits of fracking. The very reason why it is left to the helpless department to sort out the AMD problems is that the mining companies at mined out places have gone away and abandoned their once profitable mines.  This department too is unable to get hundreds of mining companies to comply with a water license for existing and active mines.

If fracking should go ahead expect unprecedented food shortages, water shortages and air pollution.  Expect also further acidification of our oceans as carbon dioxide dissolves into the water. Extraction and burning of the presently stable methane gas will be a position from which there will be no return.

So given the negative side, please would DEA please tell us what the “merits” are?

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