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South Africa Lifts Fracking Moratorium; Citizens Alarmed By U.S. Fracking Examples

South African farmers came to the U.S. to see what fracking might do to their land -- and what they learned terrified them.

Photo Credit: Un-Earthed


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South Africa announced the end to its moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (known as fracking) on September 7. The African National Congress-led government first declared the moratorium on fracking in April 2011 because of the growing public outcry. This controversial technique for extracting natural gas is a form of extreme fossil-fuel extraction being debated globally and the U.S. is watched and studied as more accidents and serious risks are reported as a result of this shale gas exploration and production.

The decision to end the moratorium in South Africa, which may have the fifth largest supply of natural gas in the world, has ignited another phase of opposition to fracking, as citizens demand more research and public education.

The Karoo, an arid farming region in the Eastern Cape of the country is where most of the natural gas is located. People concerned about how fracking affects farming and the water supply have raised red flags about the ANC’s ties to Royal Dutch Shell, the largest stakeholder in the gas reserves, which has other political parties in South Africa crying foul.

David Ross of the Democratic Alliance (DA) explained in April:

The DA calls for the ANC-linked Batho Batho Trust to divest its 51% stake in Thebe Investments (Shell South Africa’s local empowerment partner). Through Thebe, the Batho Batho Trust effectively has a 12% stake in Shell SA Refining, and a 14% stake in Shell SA Marketing. Shell is currently an applicant for three gas exploration licenses. While these applications are not currently being processed, due to the moratorium instituted in April 2011, these applications, among others, will be considered for approval if and when the moratorium is lifted. The Batho Batho Trust was established 20 years ago by ANC members with a view to supporting socio-economic development in South Africa. But the Trust now provides donations to the ANC.

Faith in the governing party to effectively regulate industries and protect the environment is not high. One only has to look at the tragic circumstances around the acid mine drainage crisis caused by gold mining in Gauteng Province to be mistrustful of the inadequate track record of regulating industry. Gauteng is the smallest of South Africa’s nine provinces and the economic center of the country. It is estimated to have the largest population. The Vaal River on its southern border has extreme water contamination damage caused by the mining industry and it has been reported that the water supply of whole villages is contaminated from the vast gold field production.

Another consideration is the location of the world’s two largest coal power plants (Kusile and Medupi) in South Africa, located in the north and east of the country, an energy plan that is having disastrous polluting results.

Mining Minister Susan Shabangu of South Africa stated last summer in what is being called the Shabangu Promise that once the report was finalized the cabinet would, "go out to everybody. I can assure you that when it comes to fracking in the Karoo, we will engage with everybody. We will go to the people." But “the people” are not so happy with the government’s decision.

Jonathan Deal, the chair of Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG), a community group fighting fracking in South Africa, lives on the edge of Cape Town. He has land in the Karoo which he clarified is not under threat of shale gas exploration, but he is still concerned about the region. His response to the government’s process in this decision is emphatic: “South Africans are waking up to this threat. The SA government decision to lift the moratorium has sent a clear signal across the world. Rather than the signal we believe Minister Shabangu wanted to send -- ‘South Africa is open for business’ -- the real signal is that our government has made a hasty and ill-researched decision that could set an irreversible process in motion.”

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