Showdown over Shell's Karoo plans

Showdown over Shell's Karoo plans

2011-02-08 07:44

Cape Town - Energy giant Royal Dutch Shell is targeting potential untapped shale gas reserves in coal-hungry South Africa where landowners - including a Dutch princess - are readying for a showdown.

Shell applied in December to explore 90 000 square kilometres -- twice the size of Denmark -- for gas deposits in the clay-like shale rock of the arid central Karoo.

"The shale gas potential is quite high, because there is a high volume of shale and therefore the potential for gas development is very big," said Jenny Marot of the state's Petroleum Agency SA (PASA).

But more than 200 people want the application dropped, including landowner Dutch Princess Irene, due to environmental concerns and the use of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" to release viable deposits if discovered.

The Anglo-Dutch giant, whose 2010 net profits nearly doubled to $18.6 billion, is one of several companies interested in the Karoo where gas finds in the 1960s were technologically and economically unviable to exploit.

South Africa's petro-chemical heavyweight Sasol is in early studies in a joint venture, while American firm Falcon Oil&Gas, and Bundu Gas and Oil are also eyeing additional chunks of the Karoo.

"We have always known that there was gas trapped in shale but it was a whole lot more expensive to extract when you had potential reserves elsewhere of conventional gas," said Shell Africa communications vice president Phaldie Kalam.

"We're now moving from easy to tight gas. It's effectively a sign of the times; as it becomes more economically viable, and the prices are a whole lot better for the commodity, its worth actually using the different techniques and going further and deeper."

But locals fear "fracking", in which water, sand and chemicals are blasted deep underground to force rock cracks and free the trapped gas, will pollute underground water which the barren Karoo is almost entirely dependent upon.

The process is also water intense, a scarce commodity in the inland region.

Energy supply

"Our biggest concern is water and the risk of contamination of that water," said Derek Light, a Karoo attorney who represents 200 people including farmers against Shell and smaller groups against Falcon and Bundu.

"The mineral resources of this country must be exploited for the benefit of our people and at the same token, you need foreign investment. But all we see at the moment is a threat to our people."

With shale gas tipped to make up a fifth of the US gas supply by 2020, potential harmful effects of fracking on drinking water is subject to a study by the country's Environmental Protection Agency.

Shell, which will submit an environmental management plan to PASA in April, says its track record shows safe use of the technology and that opposing views will be taken into future thinking.

The area's potential will only be known once exploration starts but, if viable, the Karoo will have a major impact on energy supply with early conservative estimates above five trillion cubic feet of gas, said PASA chief executive Mthozami Xiphu.

"It is potentially much higher than that. If you compare with Mossgas, that's more than five times what is being produced at Mossgas" gas fields off the southern Cape coast.

South Africa relies heavily on coal for 95 percent of its electricity and the government plans to increase gas consumption from three percent to 10 percent within a decade.

But WWF South Africa head Morne du Plessis questioned the pursuit of more fossil fuels.

"We're sitting with massive opportunities for renewable energy production above the ground," he said.

  • Muschook - 2011-02-08 08:06

    I say stop using Shell immediately until government can kick them out of SA!

  • Rob - 2011-02-08 08:11

    The WHOLE country should stand up to this!!! Fracking is a REAL THREAT to the security of our lands and water. Read up on this DISGUSTING behavior... MAKE YOUR STAND!!!

  • draadsitter - 2011-02-08 08:25

    There are towns in the US Midwest that new have flammable tapwater from this process. Not all of the gas is captured during "fracking" and a fair amount ends up in the groundwater.

  • Stop FRACKING SHELL - 2011-02-08 08:29

    You know where NOT to fill up with fuel. If we all boycott their pumps we will get some action. If every South African who cares stops filling at the Shell pumps they must take notice.Together we can and we will.

  • jack - 2011-02-08 08:45

    Watch the govt members get backhanders for this to go ahead.Shell have wrecked other countries with their search.

  • Paul - 2011-02-08 08:53

    this is DISGUSTING from Shell... flammable tapwater!!! i will not be using shell stations... we all should take a stand here to protect the karoo!!!

  • Ozman - 2011-02-08 09:00

    Australia's got the same problem in Queensland, when using the Fracking method gas and contaminates leak into the underground water and when pumping water out of boreholes fire ejects out of boreholes with the water.

  • Frack Shell - 2011-02-08 09:06

    The government and PASA are no doubt standing with cupped hands, ready to receive a few kickbacks from sHELL. This is not only a fight against an unscrupulous and ruthless multinational energy giant - it is also a fight against a shortsighted government. Fight we will have to fight, though. Bugger sHELL - I will not buy their product

  • ksnsc - 2011-02-08 09:13

    The Karoo has so much sun, why not go the environmental friendly way and put up Solar farms and grow plants in the shade of the panels. Bring back greenery to the karoo and water will come back too? STOP the GREED and think about our future!,

  • Andre Kruger - 2011-02-08 09:23

    Those who are new to fracking, go watch the documentry Gasland,follow link for more info Save the Karoo fight fracking.

  • Charlie - 2011-02-08 09:25

    But it will create jobs and it can help solve our power crisis and and.... That's the positive side, now tell the country about the negative side!

  • Charles - 2011-02-08 09:36

    I'll never fill up wih Shell or Sasol again and I'll be happy to contribute financially for any legal battles. Big oil - Voertsek out of the Karoo! We have a constitutional right to a clean and safe environment and your processes will poison this land forever.

  • tinyT - 2011-02-08 09:36

    This should definitely not be allowed! We canot afford to pollute more of our valuable ground water! Just look at the problem around the gold mines in Gauteng! And exploration or mining in this region will completely destroy the SKA (Square Kilometer Array) and Meerkat programmes that are running in the Karoo and are worth billions to South Africa and it already cost us millions to start the programme! Also Shell has shocking service and no longer supply LRP or accept all debit or cheque cards. Shell- GO AWAY!

  • michaelp1 - 2011-02-08 09:38

    I agree - STOP filling up at Shell.

  • Marianne Gouws - 2011-02-08 09:42

    Please everyone must take a stand against this! Why don't they go and do this on their own doorstep? Why in the most beautifull and almost untouched Karoo? They are just greedy and thinking about their own pockets - definatley not our Country and what is best for us and future generations!!!!

  • John - 2011-02-08 09:43

    A facebook group was started to boycott Shell until they shelve their plans.

  • Henk - 2011-02-08 09:47

    Lucky for us there are many other fuel companies that can get my support. I will not support them anymore. I used to only fill up with Shell. South Africans need to stand up to Corporates raping our environment for their own enrichment.

  • Bernard V - 2011-02-08 09:57

    I would support this. Our country would greatly benefit from the export and internal use of this gas. It would generate a lot of wealth for the area(which a lot of people know is one of the poorest parts of our country). People really need to wake up and realize that it is 2011 and we can't pretend that we will not need any and all possible advantages we can have to compete in the global market.

  • Stroller - 2011-02-08 10:02

    Shell now calls in the favours; it's payback time. Remember Shell gave Shell House to the ANC to use as their HQ.

  • BACK IN TIME - 2011-02-08 10:04


  • John - 2011-02-08 10:08

    "stop using Shell immediately until government can kick them out of SA" If you guys are relying on GUVMENT to do something, you can forget it. Its because of government involvement that this is on the table. Mark my words, this is going to happen, the environment is going to get damaged and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it - except vote DA out of desperation.

  • Karoo Boy - 2011-02-08 10:10

    I think this is great! There is such a problem with economic development in these plaasdorpies. All I normally see there is unemployed drunk people, and no room for development. All the young people have to go to the cities to get a decent job, and hopefully in the future now they can work by Shell in the Karoo. Go Well, Go Shell!

  • martin albert - 2011-02-08 10:17

    Given what Shell have done to the Niger Delta it is unbelievable that they are even allowed to operate in SA. The idiot that runs PASA who allowed this to ven get where it is should be fired!

  • FaniZumu - 2011-02-08 10:33

    Wait until the corrupt ANC government offcials, & in particluar Zuma & Mandela's grandsons (or even perhaps the unions Cosatu & the rest of the puppeteers), get the smell of the gas in the karoo, then Shell, the landowners & everybody will be kicked into touch & they will take over. It can & will be arranged that way by the corrupt officals in the DME, who will aslo get a wif of gas.

  • EIIAA - 2011-02-08 10:36

    Boikotting SHELL?? are you joking??? The corrupt ANC government will not allow this, they are in SHELL's pockets.

  • Johan - 2011-02-08 12:02

    Go read this, its all driven by greed and we all know how greedy our illustrious leaders are...

  • Stewart - 2011-02-08 13:16

    Note, they compare it to what IS being produced at Mossgas(PetroSA), PetroSA is running at about 30% capacity as its gas reserves are depleted. Its currently producing very little. Where are they going to find money to build the factories and pipe lines? Because by this time this gets going the budget will be shot agian, even with the new tolls.....what will they tax to fund this?

  • Shaun - 2011-02-08 13:48

    As long as it is done responsibly and they employ mainly South African people, I can only imagine that it will be benificial to the country as a whole.

  • Bruce - 2011-02-08 14:02


  • Gill - 2011-02-08 15:53

    This sounds just awful. The Karoo must be the purest, most uncontaminated and pristine area of our wonderful country, don't kid yourselves that this will make it a better place.

  • Andrew - 2011-02-09 07:53

    To understand the dangers of 'fracking' and how it's destroyed a lot of the US, please attempt to download and watch the documentary 'Gasland'. It is NOT safe, hundreds of chemicals are injected into the earth alongside massive quantities of water, leading to not only contamination of the ground water, but also the physical and mental well-being of those living in the near vicinity to these wells. In the US, ALL environmental regulation simply DOES NOT apply to these companies, Bush signed legislation to this effect, giving the corporation the right to do as they please with no consequence. They're not even by law required to admit to the chemicals they use. Let's not see the same happen here. I hope people find the knowledge which is out there to formulate their opinions. The Corporation, tv and newspapapers telling you the truth? Unlikely.

  • Thys - 2011-02-13 07:45

    It is time that the power of the big oil companies world wide is broken. Big money is preventing more research into alternative energy. Who is benefiting out of all this, only a few at the top. Chase them out

  • Lauren - 2011-02-23 14:19

    please sign the petition against fracking in the karoo!!!

  • Peter - 2011-03-03 21:04

    No more Shell for me !

  • kaliel - 2011-03-04 12:56

    Phaldie Kalam - If we cannot stop the company we will stop their employee lapdogs. Your number is up my man. Better watch your back from now on.

  • Marek - 2011-04-04 12:09

    This is just a fraction of what happens when they use "FRACKING" This cannot be allowed to go ahead.

  • His Lordship - 2011-05-10 15:16

    How about this article from a leading science website: Shell must most certainly not be allowed in the Karoo!

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