The anti-fracking lobby organisation Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG) has claimed that Shell is dishing out “free lunch” to communities in the Karoo in order to get buy-in for the exploration of shale gas in the Karoo.
TKAG chairperson Jonathan Deal said they were aware of “under hand” meetings taking place in the Karoo where a select people were being invited by Shell in order to gain support for planned shale gas mining using the controversial hydraulic fracturing method.
Deal said as an example, a meeting was held recently in Murraysburg which was “well attended” by people informed in advance by a local municipal officer but for which there was no public notice, although the meeting took place in a public space.
He said Shell’s presentation at the meeting hardly contained new information or answers, and afterwards the gathering was treated to lunch courtesy of Shell.
He said when presented with various opportunities in 2012 to present to an informed audience, Shell had declined to appear.
He said the company had also cancelled meetings with national environmental organisations “on learning that TKAG would be present”.
Shell spokesperson Janine Nel said they were aware of the “issues and allegations” raised by TKAG.
She said that in line with their global onshore operating principles, “we will continue to work closely with the people of the Karoo and South Africa to address concerns and ensure they benefit from the shale gas exploration”.
She said the meeting in Murraysburg was an example of “our commitment to share information on the proposed Karoo shale gas project”.
She said it was “a private meeting with people invited on Shell’s behalf by local officials”.
Nel said that once they started the official environmental, social and health impact assessment, they would hold frequent formal public participation meetings.
She said anyone with an interest in their proposals would then be welcome to attend such gatherings.
Deal said their problem with Shell’s “underhanded strategy” (on such meetings) was “exactly the same issue we have had with Shell throughout their campaign to sell shale gas mining to South Africans”.
“What is more, in our experience, Shell deliberately overstates benefits and downplays risk, just as they did in Murraysburg…crucial questions relating to water-sourcing, transport and other issues were answered unsatisfactorily.”
He said it was “very difficult” for a non-profit organisation to compete with the “well funded propaganda machine of shell”.
Nel said they would continue to listen to the views of Karoo residents and explain, “in detail what our plans entail”.
She said Shell saw “great potential in the safe and responsible” development of natural gas resources in South Africa “as part of a secure energy mix”.
She said gas, in combination with other energy sources, including renewable energy, could help secure the country’s energy future while creating sustainable and permanent jobs.
The exploitation of shale gas through fracking is facing growing resistance by some environmentalists in several jurisdictions around the world.
Mineral Resources minister Susan Shabangu lifted a moratorium on shale gas explorations last September, paving the way for the issuing of licenses to companies such Shell. – Francis Hweshe