R10m war chest for anti-frackers


Environment & Science Writer

Karoo residents have taken to the streets to protest against fracking. Credit: INLSA

ANTI-fracking coalition Treasure the Karoo Action Group believes Shell and other oil companies will “vigorously” pursue the shale gas exploration method and that the government’s moratorium is “the first skirmish in a battle of international proportions”.

The group has a budget of “close to R10 million” to oppose possible fracking, including in the courts. .

“We have from the outset been independently financed and have managed to mount and maintain a substantial opposition to fracking in South Africa, without a large contribution from anyone outside the group,” national co-ordinator Jonathan Deal said.

Shell said it would walk away from its proposed exploration for shale gas in the Karoo if the government banned fracking.

Last month, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu imposed a moratorium on fracking, pending results of a comprehensive scientific investigation into the process that the state has now initiated.

Bonang Mohale, chairman of Shell SA, said the company was “120 percent compliant” with the country’s laws and would obey the government.

“If they say ‘No’, we will pack our bags and go and look for a hole somewhere else, because that’s what we do – explore.”

Mohale was speaking during a panel discussion with Deal at UCT’s Graduate School of Business at the Waterfront. The discussion was organised by Net Impact South Africa, the local chapter of the “global network of leaders who are changing the world through business”.

Mohale described fracking as a “god-sent” technology because it allowed the same volume of extraction through just one or two wells, with a small surface area, as 100 wells using conventional technology.

Shell SA believed concerns about fracking were “legitimate… That’s why we’re having these conversations.”

Mohale agreed fracking was a mining activity and “does disturb the environment” and conceded there could be environmental problems if a well collapsed. Some companies polluted, he acknowledged. However, his company had drilled 800 000 wells without incident.

“There’s not a single piece of evidence that a well owned, managed or drilled by Shell has collapsed.”

Also, the company had made public its commitments to social and environmental conditions, should its application be approved, and these were legally binding commitments in terms of the environmental management plan for the proposed project.

Deal said Shell and the other two companies involved – Bundu and Falcon – had failed to persuade the action group or the government that fracking should be permitted in South Africa “from an environmental, public health or even an economic perspective”.

“Every passing week brings more concerns to light.”

Mohale said even if Shell was granted exploration rights, it did not mean it would exploit the shale gas deposits.

It needed to determine the size of these deposits and whether gas would flow to the surface, he said.