Daryl Ilbury

Posts Tagged ‘Shell’

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.