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Fierce critic joins bid to save Karoo

Barry Wuganaale from Nigerian Ogani Solidarity Forum during Fracking protest outside parliament. March 5 2011 Photo by Michael Walker

Barry Wuganaale from Nigerian Ogani Solidarity Forum during Fracking protest outside parliament. March 5 2011 Photo by Michael Walker

Published Jul 8, 2013


Cape Town - A Nigerian pastor who describes himself as an environmental and political refugee and who has been harshly critical of international oil giant Shell’s operations in his home country, has been appointed chairman of anti-fracking organisation Treasure the Karoo Action Group.

That decision, announced last week, drew an immediate critical reaction from writer, commentator and fracking advocate Ivo Vegter, who tweeted: “I’d think this means war against Shell.”

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The oil giant is one of three companies holding prospecting rights for shale gas across a huge swathe of the Karoo.

The government has given the green light for shale gas exploration wells to be drilled, but not yet for the use of the controversial hydraulic fracturing method, or fracking, that is used throughout the world to extract shale gas from so-called “tight gas deposits in rock formations”.

The action group said Pastor Barry Wuganaale, whom it described as an international activist and faith leader, would assume chairmanship, taking over from founder chairman Jonathan Deal who would become chief executive. Daantjie Japhta, a former mayor of Graaff-Reinet, would be vice-chairman.

Noting that organisations and communities across South Africa and internationally were “coalescing to oppose shale gas mining (fracking)”, action group director of operations Jeanie Le Roux said: “We welcome Pastor Wuganaale and Mr Japhta to our team and have great confidence in their ability to advance the objectives of a new, national alliance against shale gas mining.”

She also said there were “significant, credible, unresolved questions” about shale gas mining here.

In 2011, Wuganaale told the Cape Times that “he’d nearly choked on his dinner” when learning that Shell planned to frack for shale gas in the Karoo.

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“I was shocked… I am from the Ogoni people in Nigeria. We know Shell. What Shell has done to the Ogoni people and to the Nigerian state, I don’t wish to be repeated on anyone,” he was quoted as saying.

Asked if Shell wanted to respond, spokeswoman Janine Nel said: “We have seen the media reports and have taken note of the management change in Treasure the Karoo Action Group.”

Last week, Water and Environmental Affairs minister Edna Molewa pointed out during a media briefing that while the government had given the go-ahead for shale gas exploration in the Karoo, it had specifically excluded the use of fracking at this stage.

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The government was applying the “precautionary principle” and had done “quite a bit” of research about fracking in other countries, she said. - Cape Argus

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