IN ADVANCE of possible shale gas exploration in the Karoo, pilot baseline groundwater testing began on a farm outside Cradock yesterday.
Water from a borehole was sampled on a farm chosen because it could become affected by the exploration.
Should the water become contaminated because of fracking methods, it would act as a credible source of pretesting proof of the quality of water, the organisations involved in the project said yesterday.
The tests are funded by the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa) and were facilitated by the Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG).
Group operations director Jeanie le Roux saidthe borehole – on the farm Grootte Schuur – was identified because of its ideal location in the area where multinationals had applied for exploration rights.
“It is a typical borehole representative of the region. Companies involved in shale gas exploration would ideally like to be situated next to a busy road like this,” Le Roux said, pointing to the N10, towards Middelburg, which borders the farm.
Senior Cansa official Dr Carl Albrecht said the purpose of the pilot was to identify factors in the environment that caused cancer.
“About 100 out of the 1000 chemicals used in the process of fracking are chemicals known to cause cancer,” said Albrecht, who is acting head of research science at the association’s resource centre.
“This is why we do baseline testing before fracking takes place. This can act as evidence if farmers ever need results of such tests to protect their rights.”
The groundwater test, to cost R80000, would be published on Cansa’s website “for everyone to see”, Albrecht said.
Three sets of water samples were taken at Grootte Schuur farm. These will be sent to Stellenbosch University and two other accredited independent laboratories.
Albrecht said apart from the chemicals and water quality of the samples, the water would also be tested for hormones, since the chemicals used in fracking had been known to change the hormonal quality of groundwater.
Fourth-generation farmer Philip Antrobus, who owns Grootte Schuur and several other neighbouring farms in the Cradock district, said he saw fracking as a threat to “something I feel passionate about – my family farms”.
Antrobus, who farms with pecan nuts, sheep and cattle, said he had created jobs for 12 permanent families and several seasonal workers at Grootte Schuur.
“I believe in sustainable farming. I do not want to be dispossessed of my farm. This specific borehole being tested is supplying water to the cattle, sheep and wild springbok on the farm,” he said.
TKAG and Cansa aim to expand the testing to more farms in the Karoo to make the study more comprehensive.
The borehole, which was found to be 27m deep, had a clear stream of water from 20m from where the samples were taken by Ages EC.
Ages senior hydrologist and Eastern Cape managing director Jan Myburgh said the fracture zones had been identified and the geology around the borehole had also been studied. – Cindy Preller