Women farmers in the central Karoo town of Murraysburg have rejected prospects of shale gas mining in the area, saying allowing multi-national oil companies into the ecologically sensitive Karoo would be “murdering the country”.
Farmers in the area between Graaff-Reinet and Beaufort West believe they would be first in line if hydraulic fracturing of subterranean shale (fracking) for shale gas was given the go ahead, and see their town as the frontline in the battle against the Shell oil company and anti-fracking organization Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG).
TKAG chairman Jonathan Deal has accused Shell of providing “free lunches” during its information meetings there in order to get buy-in for the exploration for shale gas, a claim the company has since denied.
Last week Deal was in Murraysburg to address delegates at the annual conference of the Cape Women’s Agriculture Association (CWAA) where he urged them to protest against Shell’s proposed exploration for shale gas on their farms.
A license for shale gas exploration is presently being considered by the Department of Mineral Resources.
Deal warned delegates that oil and gas companies were “good at manipulating communities…starting wars and stopping them”.
He claimed that these companies bribed governments to exploit natural resources, alleging that the ruling ANC had a shareholding in Shell marketing with the result that the government, under the ruling ANC, was being both player and referee in the process.
He said fracking in the Karoo would lead to “massive” ecological destruction behind after Shell walked away with the profits, and the TKAG had a legal team ready to oppose the issuing of exploration licenses should they be granted.
Sheep farmer Michelle Jansen van Rensburg believed fracking would “definitely” have a negative effect on Karoo aquifers from which the population drew their water.
She likened allowing shale gas mining in South Africa to “murdering our country” and said it was “scary” to learn about the experiences of communities in parts of the US where fracking had gone ahead.
If ground water were polluted, people would be unable to farm, causing untold ripple effects.
Farmer Juanita du Plessis concurred with Van Rensburg, explaining that they were aware of the effects of fracking and they would resist such activities in their community.
Emerentia Pretorius said she was learning more about fracking on the internet, indicating that it was not a welcome mining activity.
However, some residents of the town had mixed feelings about fracking.
One shop owner said although he opposed fracking, it was almost certain that mining companies would have their way and exploit the resource.
In that event, he said he would want to see these companies giving back to the community by way of infrastructure development such as the building of schools and clinics.
One passer’s by said he knew very little about fracking, but judging from what he had heard, he would not support it.
Deal told CWAA delegates that an alternative was needed to uplift poor people in the area so that they would not be swayed by claims from government and the oil industry that fracking would provide jobs.
However, proponents of fracking argue that it is a safe mining technique, had the potential to create employment and provide affordable energy.
Yet despite purported benefits, there is a growing anti-fracking movement around the world, with environmental activists raising concern that fracking, among others mining methods, contaminated ground water, posed health risks and polluted the environment. – Francis Hweshe