Pro-fracking argument is all gas

By: Jeremy Westgarth-Taylor

In his address on fracking at the Press Club on May 23, Chris Nissen made some extraordinarily erroneous statements.

What's so pretty about this? Photo by World Resources Institute

Mr Nissen agreed that the ANC had a financial interest in Shell, but he sees nothing wrong with this. Thus the ANC are both the decision makers – as to whether the practice of fracking should go ahead – and part owners of the fracking company. This makes them both the player and referee.

He states that the groundwater in the Karoo is “useless”. He thereby, accepts that the groundwater will indeed be destroyed by fracking. Mr Nissen, the whole of the Karoo depends on groundwater for its survival. By polluting the aquifer, the Karoo as we know it today will be destroyed forever.

Is your memory so short that you forget that only last year Beaufort West was kept alive by some kind folk who donated and trucked water to the town when their dam completely dried up? The town thereafter survived on water supplied exclusively from boreholes.

If the ANC and Shell partnership goes ahead then municipalities will die too.

The surface water will be affected too. It will be polluted from the drilling tailings, fracking fluids and radioactive minerals left on the surface that will run off into rivers. Add to this the trillions of litres of sea water that Shell and others intend to truck into the Karoo, the first avenue is into rivers.

Addressing the topic of renewables, Mr Nissen spoke of the ugliness of wind turbines. He did not mention PV (photovoltaic) technology at all. Are drilling rigs, gas pipelines, pylons and coal power stations pretty? Why single out wind turbines?

The crossover of the rising prices of fossil fuels and the falling prices of renewables such as PV panels, has passed behind us and huge savings in PV will yet follow.

He also talked about the safety aspects of fracking, his view being that it is safe because the gas is extracted some three to four thousand metres below the surface through impervious rock, from where it was impossible for any gas to escape. If there were a problem afterwards it could not be the fault of fracking, but of “workmanship”.

Excuse me? Mr Nissen, impervious becomes porous once the frackers have drilled a huge hole from the surface to the shale layer where the methane is to be found. The word “fracking” comes from hydraulic fracturing which means that the rock is broken. The rock is then porous. The hole that you drill is the escape tunnel. No matter how the well is capped, concrete and steel will falter and gas will escape in perpetuity.

The breaking news last week in the Cape Times from the University of the Free State was indeed a bombshell. Professor Gerrit van Tonder’s stance has U-turned since completing his latest research. Just as Chris Nissen is still pronouncing how safe fracking is and Minister Susan Shabangu is about to make a pronouncement regarding lifting the moratorium, Professor Van Tonder states categorically that he was “100 percent certain” that underground water in the Karoo basin flowed upwards, and that there were a vast number of natural “pathways” along which water could flow upwards.

As a result water could carry a toxic cocktail of chemicals used in fracking up to freshwater aquifers nearer the surface he says. Combined with a number of artificial pathways created by fracking boreholes, polluted water would have devastating consequences for farmers.

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