THE importance of groundwater to all communities in the Karoo and the option for Shell to do something completely different with it’s R3.5-billion budget are two of the points that emerged from the Middelburg meeting. Farmer Johan van Onselen said he relies almost exclusively on groundwater because of the transience of rain in the Karoo. This applies to his neighbours and, equally, to the municipalities managing the Karoo towns, he noted.
Another farmer David McPherson said they were totally against the fracking application. “It’s our livelihoods that are being put at jeopardy.”
Another farmer Rhett Newton said farmers are leading the fight against fracking at the moment, but that ownship communities could be hardest hit if water if contaminated because the immunity systems of residents in these communities are typically already frail.
Dr Peter Baker, director of the Richmond Community Development Foundation, said if Shell used the money earmarked for the fracking to instead develop renewable energy like solar, the people of the Karoo would benefit. With the fracking, the landowner could expect no return at all and what jobs there might, bar some driving trucks, will be for people with skills in the gas drilling sector, he argued.
Shell has showed it’s colours elsewhere on the continent, he warned.
“There have been untold leakages in Nigeria. This is Africa, and they think they can get away with it.”
Presed on how many wells will be sunk if Shell applies and is allowed to go to production, Shell technical expert Tony Cortis said it was too early in the process to be sure, but there could be 1000 wells sunk with 10 wells to a “pad” and horizontal fracking arms extending out below the surface. Each pad would be a minimum 5kms apart.
Farmer and lawyer Mike Ferrar said this scenario would “destroy the essence of the Karoo”.
Project leader Brent Baxter responded, “there will be a change in the fabric of the Karoo. This will have to be weighed against the benefits to South Africa.”