Daryl Ilbury

Posts Tagged ‘energy’

The conveniently forgotten connection between cows and fracking

In Eish!, Fools, Science on September 12, 2012 at 6:52 am

“I never mince my words when it comes to my opinion on beef”

I never complain about the price I pay for beef, because no price I pay is greater than that paid by the cow in order that I may eat it. And so it is with hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

I am well aware that I am a consumer, right at the bottom of a myriad chains of production, refinement and distribution. This means that although I never squeezed the trigger that delivered the killing blow to the cow that is now minced and vacuum packed in front of me, I am still part of the demand element that set in motion the inevitability of its demise. Do I like to be reminded of it? No. Do I deserve the epithet ‘murderer’ that vegans would afford me? No. Does that mean I can blithely go about my shopping for beef free of any guilt? No.

So what does it mean? It means that I need to be a responsible consumer; so I reach a compromise: I only eat free range beef.

I was reminded of this when I read a piece in the Daily Maverick on fracking by the always engaging Ivo Vegter. Ivo has the capacity to deliver a strong and well-research argument that seems to rub a lot of people up the wrong way; and I admire him for that. There are few things more disengaging for the  journalist in me than reading plodding, but factually rich, copy, or the garbled and factually deficient ramblings of a volatile extremist.

Ivo’s point supports my belief that fracking in South Africa, if properly managed and regulated (and there’s the challenge), has the capacity to reshape the country’s energy profile. This is not about big business, it’s about recognising the fact, conveniently forgotten by environmental extremists, that we are consumers of energy. We are therefore just as responsible for the sourcing, drilling and refining of the fuel when we use a computer to fire off an angry anti-fracking e-mail, as we are for the death of the cow when we grab a vacuum-sealed pack of free-range meat at Woolworths.

Unless we are willing to eschew all forms of energy and live in the bush cooking hand-picked veggies over an open fire (oh wait, that’s a form of energy) we need to reach a compromise: we need to tap into the natural energy reserves we have whilst actively encouraging the development of alternative forms of energy. To this end the Government needs to put in place tax breaks and other forms of financial encouragement to encourage the development of alternative energy provision, especially in rural areas.

It won’t save any more cows, but it’s the realistic, responsible thing to do.

Fracking – energy’s abortion debate

In Eish!, Politics, Science on July 12, 2012 at 10:30 am

The subtle subtext of the anti-fracking lobby

For someone such as myself, fracking – or to use its proper name ‘hydraulic fracturing‘ – is a great issue to discuss, because it’s such a messy issue. It’s controversial because it’s emotive. The question is: why is it so emotive?

For a country such as South Africa – where I live – it is emotive because it holds such promise, but at a cost. South Africa sits on the world’s 5th largest reserve of shale gas. Access to such a reserve would transform the country’s energy profile. According to Fin24.com,¬†a study by Econometrix commissioned by Shell has found that it could contribute R200bn (about US$25bn) a year to the South African economy and create 700 000 jobs.

Whereas there is considerably debate around the enthusiasm of these figures, in the South African national psyche anything that could provide both income and employment is worth investigating.

And there’s another issue, a political issue, and something that has captivated the imagination of the country: the possible nationalisation of mines and expropriation of private land. It’s been an on-off debate for many years, given added impetus following President Jacob Zuma’s recent promise of a ‘second transition‘ – suggesting a more rigorous policy of addressing the seeming delays in economic transformation.

It’s an issue that seriously concerns two energy companies – Shell and Sasol – who are hoping to secure the rights to tap into the country’s vast reserves of shale gas. What if they succeed, only to have their operations nationalised?

But the controversy doesn’t stop there; because there’s also the very thorny issue of where the gas is: underneath the Karoo – a vast, largely unspoilt semi-desert that covers almost half the country’s interior, and which is dotted with national parks and farming communities. It’s an environmentalist’s dream, and therefore the thought of it being covered with fracking rigs is giving them nightmares. So environmentalist activists have been very busy painting pictures of destroyed landscapes and contaminated water resources.

So why don’t the energy companies go directly to the land owners in this farming area for the rights to prospect on their land? Because unlike, say, the US, according to South African property law, landowners do not hold the rights to the minerals beneath their land, the state does.

There is currently a moratorium on fracking in South Africa, as the various stakeholders take a breath and analyse the pros and cons; and while they do, the country seems split into two campls: those on the one side who support the country’s choice to determine whether or not it should tap into what’s in its mineral womb; and on the other, those who believe it doesn’t have the right to destroy what nature has given it.

And that’s why debate around fracking is so emotive – it really is energy’s abortion debate.