The UN needs stricter resolutions to stop fracking

Forum for Black Journalists chairman Abbey Makoe reacts to the SA Human Rights Commission's ruling on the organisation refusing white journalists to its activities during a press briefing by the SAHRC in Johannesburg, Tuesday, 8 April 2008. According to the SAHRC the policy of limiting the membership on the basis of race is unconstitutional. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

Forum for Black Journalists chairman Abbey Makoe reacts to the SA Human Rights Commission's ruling on the organisation refusing white journalists to its activities during a press briefing by the SAHRC in Johannesburg, Tuesday, 8 April 2008. According to the SAHRC the policy of limiting the membership on the basis of race is unconstitutional. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

Published Jul 12, 2021



It is quite ironic that the US wants to play a leading role in the fight against climate change, yet the country continues to use harmful and environmentally hazardous fracking to extract shale gas, resulting in emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and chemicals into water and soil.

Proponents of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling are credited with turning unproductive shales into the largest natural gas. Good for business. But protagonists of this dangerous technology of hydraulic fracturing stand accused of putting profits before the environment and humanity.

Combating environmental degradation remains one of the UN’s key Millennium Development Goals. Hence initiatives such as the annual World Environment Day during which a conscious effort is made to educate the international community about the wisdom of protecting and preserving our environment.

The use of plastic is currently facing extinction. Examples of the negative impact of plastic manufacturing and usage are abound, with images of sea population suffocating on plastic dominating the world stage.

Leading global powers such as the US carry on their shoulders the responsibility to take a front role in preserving the environment and indeed our universe. Efforts aimed at fighting climate change have become a collective objective of multilateral organisations.

But what is sadly evident is the display of double standards in climate policy of Washington in particular. The international community was left aghast when former US president Donald Trump pulled his country out of the Paris Declaration and prioritised his “America First” foreign policy. Pretty swiftly, though, Trump’s successor President Joe Biden enchanted the world with his decision to return his country to the multilateral institutions where its absence had been felt during Trump’s four years in the Oval Office, particularly with Washington’s crucial monetary contributions and general aid.

One report in CFR.Org makes reference to businessman-turned-President Trump “seeking to capitalise on the fracking boom and pursuing a deregulatory agenda to unleash American energy”.

Trump is credited with expanding “drilling rights on federal land”. The report continued: “The Trump administration leased four million acres of federal land for fossil fuel production. It offered almost as many acres for drilling in four years – around twenty-five million – as the Obama administration did in eight years.”

Biden has given the clearest indication that he would not turn Trump’s fracking policies on its head anytime soon. He has been quoted as saying he intends to “gradually move away” from it.

It is not hard to see why Biden adopts such a posture toward a technology that a growing number of the world’s powers are ditching. Since 2008, the US has become the world’s leading producer of oil and gas, largely due to advances in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it has become known.

The process, which thrives in the States regarded as the balance of power in Washington such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas, involves using high-pressure chemicals to break into difficult-to-reach underground deposits.

Almost 13 000 wells have been drilled elsewhere in the sprawling Marcellus formation. This has resulted in Pennsylvania becoming the second-largest gas-producing state.

The practice reportedly boomed under both the Democrat Obama and Republican Trump administrations. A major campaign by environmental activists thankfully helped to slow down the planned massive development in the controversial field.

At this juncture, Biden appears like someone who is caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand he is a renowned advocate of climate change support programmes, and on the other his support for fracking means he has to play a delicate balancing act.

Speaking to reporters recently, much to the disappointment of climate activists, Biden said: “Let me be clear, and I know this always comes up. We’re not going to ban fracking.” In my view, this is confirmation of the grip that business has over politics, period.

Empirical evidence through scientific research methodologies has pointed beyond any reasonable doubt the acceleration to the environmental degradation that fracking brings with.

Indeed, tens if not hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created through fracking. However, preservation of the Earth is more important than anything else. Luckily, some of the semi-autonomous States of the US have copied enlightened practices from elsewhere and followed suit in banning fracking. Hopefully, more will follow in due course as science proves its knowledge-based power over politics.

According to available data, the State of Vermont – banned fracking in 2012. New York followed two years later, in 2014, and three years later in 2017 Maryland also banned fracking. In 2019, Oregon did the same. Florida has recently imposed restrictions on fracking. At least, the autonomy of the States means that each can take proper resolutions, even if in conflict with Washington.

The encouraging global trend, however, is pointing to more and more awareness and enlightenment against fracking. South Africa’s stance on the practice is unequivocal. Tough restrictions remain in place.

Elsewhere around the world, but particularly in Europe, countries that have “seen the light”, so to speak, and took strong action against fracking, include the UK, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, France, Denmark, Ireland and Scotland.

When taking action against fracking in 2019, Downing Street said: “Until compelling new evidence is provided, a moratorium on fracking will remain in place.”

In May 2021, the Spanish Congress in Madrid approved a new “decarbonisation bill” that also banned fracking.

France was in fact the leader of the pack when in 2017 President Emmanuel Macron and the French parliament bowed to sustained public pressure and enacted a law banning exploration and production of all oil and natural gas ventures within mainland France and overseas territories.

Canada’s regions of New Brunswick and later Quebec both banned all forms of permits for shale gas fracking.

Some of Latin American states known to have taken a no-nonsense stance against fracking include Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Uruguay.

It is my considered view that the UN, as a leading multilateral body, ought to adopt stricter resolutions against the practice of fracking as part of its Millennium Development goals to make this a better planet to live in.

In that way, all regions of the world, including Asia and Africa, would be compelled to do more to educate citizens and law-makers alike about the inherent dangers of fracking.

As for the US, if Biden is to be taken seriously with his usual chant of “the US is back”, he has to be seen to be doing the right thing to save our planet.

Washington should not be putting pressure on African leaders on the climate agenda whereas at the same time the Biden administration is promoting dangerous fracking technologies.

Washington’s expressed intent to impose the dangerous technology of hydraulic fracturing on African countries has the potential to turn Africa into a “gas ghetto”. The African Union needs to be more proactive and visible in driving the discourse on fracking and provide continental leadership as espoused in the organisation’s preamble.

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