Students Engage with Fracking
The Karoo is under threat. One of our countries most unique and prized ecosystems, which covers 200 000 km2 (or 15% of South Africa’s landmass), is in danger of being significantly damaged in the pursuit of natural gas. While the search for oil and natural gas in the Karoo began in the 1960s the signs they found were deemed insignificant and financially infeasible, however the development of a drilling technique called Hydraulic Fracturing, or ‘fracking’, has changed all this. This has prompted a renewed search for these hydrocarbon deposits deep underneath the Karoo. Currently five companies, Sasol (in partnership with Statoil and Chesapeake), Shell, Anglo American, Falcon Gas and Oil and Bundu Gas and Oil, are applying for the rights to begin the search. The proposed prospecting area covers 95 000 km2 (or the size of KwaZulu Natal), of which the majority has been applied for by Shell
Hydraulic Fracturing has a poor environmental and safety record globally and in early January of 2011 the potential existed for these applications to slip under the radar and gain government approval within South Africa. Opposition sprang up all over the country and SEACC SF felt an obligation to do their part in the growing opposition to this development. In March of 2011 SEACC SF began an awareness raising campaign amongst both the Rhodes student body and the broader Grahamstown community, this included publications in local press and public screenings of the Oscar nominated documentary Gasland, and as our slogan is “sustainability through knowledge and action” a petition was developed for the specific purposed of being submitted to decision makers in parliament.
In accordance with this, the petition called for: “a moratorium to be placed placed on all current and future on-shore gas exploration applications, decisions and actions; especially those that aim to utilise the process of hydraulic fracturing. We also call for the LONG TERM environmental, social and economic consequences of these projects to be fully investigated by an independent scientific review panel set up by Parliament. We call on national, provincial and local government to exercise the precautionary principle and undertake all actions to protect our natural environments, especially that of the Karoo.”
The petition gained the support and assistance of Mr Gareth Morgan MP, who is the Democratic Alliances Shadow Minister of Environmental and Water Affairs, who assisted us in the formulation and submission of the final petition to the Speaker of Parliament. SEACC SF Rhodes coordinated the countrywide petition with the help of the Treasure the Karoo Action Group, Rhodes Environmental Legal Activism Society, Green Times and various SEACC SF partners on other university campuses around the country. In just over a month, over 2000 signatures were collected from all around the country. It highlighted the growing opposition towards the process and the realisation that more needs to be understood about hydraulic fracturing and its true environmental, social and economic consequences.
On the 17th of June 2011 the petition was submitted to the Speaker of Parliament who then approved it and referred it to the Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources. The outcome is still unclear and a response from the committee is anticipated sometime in August 2011.
While the petition was still gathering signatures and spreading around the country, the co-ordinated action against the proposed hydraulic fracturing prompted the Minster of Minerals to place a moratorium on all applications until the outcome of a specialist study conducted by a panel appointed by the minister. While the members of the panel were not initially communicated to the public, they did not include any civil society participation; consequently there has been a massive response from the broader society including peaceful demonstrations and awareness raising activities. SEACC SF students were also involved in a protest against fracking that took place in Johannesburg outside the Shale Gas South Africa conference. Click here for more details.
It is not only the responsibility of the communities of the Karoo to fight to protect what is theirs, but a combined effort needs to be made in educating, informing the whole of South Africa about the potential risks and consequences of fracking and forcing the government to make an informed decision about the future of the Karoo. SEACC SF Rhodes is playing their small part in this concerted, joint mass effort to force the government to reconsider and examine the long term effects of drilling activities on the Karoo before it begins and cannot be reversed.This is a demonstration of what can be achieved in a short space of time with a dedicated and committed team. While the outcomes and success of the petition are yet known, it has gone a way to raising awareness and demonstrating to decision makers the need for a long term evaluation of this potentially devastating project in one our countries last remaining wilderness areas.
SEACC SF Rhodes will continue to raise awareness amongst the student body in order for them to make an informed decision surrounding fracking.