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Published by: Ruona Godwin Agbroko-Meyer on Aug 28, 2011
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08/28/2011

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Shale gas stirs ecology fears in SouthAfrica's Karoo
By Ruona Agbroko
JOHANNESBURG
|
 
Fri Apr 8, 2011 6:40am EDT
 
(Reuters) - South Africa's Karoo, a vast aridwilderness, may contain gas reserves that could
solve the country's energy problems
--
but onlythrough an extraction process called fracking that has
greens seeing red.
The sprawling and ecologically sensitive region, home to rare speciessuch as the mountain zebra and riverine rabbit, may hold vast deposits ofnatural gas in shale rock deep underground.Once unobtainable, such reserves can now be exploited with newtechniques and could serve as a badly needed energy source for Africa'slargest economy, which is heavily reliant on coal.Petrochemicals group Sasol, Anglo American and Falcon Oil and Gas areamong those eyeing shale gas in the region, although oil giant RoyalDutch Shell is leading the pack with exploration rights to 90,000 sq km(34,750 sq mile).But farmers and conservationists are opposed to shale gas developmentin a parched region famed for its succulent lamb, big skies and rare plantand animal life.Public concern focuseson hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," in whichdrillers blast millions of liters of water, sand and chemicals at high pressureinto underground rock to create cracks for gas and oil to escape.A local environment group has vowed to take the matter to court if Shell oranyone else gets the green light."We will pursue an interdict against the government and or any otherapplicable party to reverseany decision to award an exploration license,"Jonathan Dean, coordinator of the Treasure the Karoo Group (TKAG),told Reuters.Environmentalists say natural gas helps reduce carbon emissions as it burns more cleanly thancoal or oil.But the anti-fracking lobbysays the technique may well violate parts of South Africa's constitutionthat enshrine the rights to water and "ecologically sustainable development."Energy attorney Luke Havemann, who compiled a report presented to President Jacob Zuma thisweek, told Reuters South African legislation "simply does not allow for the advent of fracking."WATER WARS
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The report said Shell's 24 proposed exploration boreholes could use up to 144 million liters ofwater, putting the company in competition with farmers and wildlife in the Karoo.But the multinational insists it will not be taking other people's water, even if the exploration leadsto more wells being sunk to extract gas on a commercial basis."Nobody will go short of fresh water because of our operations, either in the exploration phase, orif there is any further development," spokesman David Williams said in an e-mailed response toquestions.Shell was developing plans to find its own water and would and help meet any communityshortages, he added.The company would also submit an environmental management plan to the government by anagreed April 14 deadline, he added, despite calls for a delay to allow more time for publiccomments.Opponents of fracking argue that it produces leftover wastewater containing cancer-causingsubstances. Supporters insist the practice is safe, noting that it is done much deeper belowground than most water sources.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently studying the impacts of fracking ondrinking water. Initial results are scheduled for release in 2012.(Reporting by Ruona Agbroko, editing by Ed Stoddard/Ruth Pitchford)
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