South Africa is rich with gold and diamonds. The discovery of natural gas could create even more wealth for the area. But the process of extracting the gas, called fracking, may be dangerous to the health of the inhabitants, possibly killing thousands.
Fracking is a technique in which typically water is mixed with sand and chemicals, and the mixture is injected at high pressure into pilot holes. This pressure creates small fractures which allow fluids such as gas, oil, uranium, and water to flow into the well. It is a relatively inexpensive way of extracting natural gas, but environmentalists warn that it is extremely dangerous. Well water can easily become contaminated and cause a myriad of health problems. Hydraulic fracking for the shale gas has already been banned in Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. In addition, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria have a six-month moratorium in place on the process.
Those in favor of fracking, say the value of extracting the gas is great, and the dangers containable.
On the information show ‘South2North,’ Redi Tlhabi posed questions to Bonang Mohale of Shell South Africa; Professor Gerrit van Tonder from The Institute for Groundwater Studies at The University of The Free State; and Saliem Fakier from the World Wildlife Fund.
Redi’s first question was to Bonang. He asked him if extracted the shale gas would create the same situation as mining. If the low cost would result in exporting the material for manufacuture.
“We need to be very awake and conscious to the fact that we cannot let the majority of South Africans not benefit, the same way that they did not benefit from mining. Because this is how big shale gas is, by the way, for us, shale gas would be like discovering gold all over again,” explains Bonang.
Van Tonder is concerned about how sensitive the water table is, and how easy it would be to contaminate the wells and underground rivers. He believes that some companies bribe the land owners and force them to sign gag orders about contamination from fracking.
“It is a gas bonanza, it is a game-changer for South Africa, but we must do it correctly, not the way they are doing it in the United States at the moment.”
Redi asked Fakier about the priority of economic growth vs. environmental danger.
“There are many oil and gas rich countries, which have a huge endowment of resources. There is good work done by the IMF and the World Bank that shows that resource extraction and its relationship with economic development … that is not an automatic relationship. So I don’t buy the public relations stuff that’s being put out there that Shell gas is going to be the answer to our economic problems. This is a very glaring reality.”
The debate about fracking continues around the world. Any possibility of damaging the drinking water in countries where there is more demand than there is supply, seems fool hardy.
The question will remain; will fracking eventually kill thousands?