Fracking in the Karoo


“Do you know what fracking the Karoo is like?” demanded Esme Senekal of Somerset East. The people from Royal Dutch Shell and their consultants didn’t reply, their faces impassive.

“It’s like you coming and drilling holes in our mother, and then leaving us to look after her and take her to hospital. Leave the Karoo alone! 


Heaven forbid

“This is the last piece of holy nature in this country. No money is worth this. You can’t replace pristine nature with money.”

The surrounding sunburnt Karoo farmers, not a group usually given to high emotion, loudly applauded her.

The public meeting, organised by Shell’s consultants, Golder Associates (slogan: “Engineering Earth’s development, protecting Earth’s integrity”), was held at the Somerset East Town Hall, and started with a prayer to protect God’s creation, nature.

Most of the attendees bowing their heads were farmers who face the possibility of losing everything if, heaven forbid, shale gas is found under their farms – or for that matter, anywhere in the Karoo.

The municipality, which has just as much to lose since Somerset East depends completely on groundwater, had sent not a single representative. In fact, most Karoo towns depend wholly on groundwater, as do farmers.

No benefits, only risk

Shell at least had the good grace not to even pretend there will be jobs or any benefit whatsoever to the community. The only ones to benefit will be Government (which owns any and all minerals, gas and oil underground) and Shell, and they admitted as much.

Again and again Shell were asked if they could give an assurance (and to back it with money) that groundwater and therefore the health, livelihoods, communities and towns in the Karoo would not be affected. All Adam Dodson could say was that Shell had never any incident of contamination while doing exploratory fracking.

He also said the Government was the only recourse for compensation of any kind. There was a stifled groan from the crowd.

The Karoo lives on Groundwater

Also present at the meeting was Ernest Pringle, president of Agri-Eastern Cape and a farmer in the affected district. He stood up in front of the meeting to emphasise the importance of groundwater. The recent crippling drought in the Bedford and Somerset East region was just a reminder, he said.

“I spent all my time trying to pump up more groundwater to keep going. So we want to know with certainty what the effects will be to the underground water supply.”

When asked if there was any kind of possibility that contamination could happen, Dodson pursed his lips and looked down.

Dr Fiona Brown, who also farms nearby, implored Shell to use the precautionary principle.



Radioactive Karoo

“You know nothing about the Karoo’s groundwater and how aquifers are interconnected. No one does. And you don’t know what can go wrong.”

Shell and Golder representatives were unmoved. Tisha Greyling of Golder conceded that there will, inevitably, be unhappy people.

One of the things that can go wrong of course, is that the Karoo is riddled with uranium, and the chance of raising radioactive waste rock to the surface is better than excellent.

Still, despite the complete lack of information coming from Shell or Golder Associates, a few eyebrow-raising facts did come through. One was that Shell was not alone in wanting to frack the Karoo. Just south of their concession was Falcon Oil & Gas’s one. This American company received a permit from the Petroleum Agency of South Africa late last year.


Famous on Facebook

Popular Karoo writer and photographer Jonathan Deal has opened a Facebook group called chase SHELL OIL out of the Karoo! Within 24 hours, hundreds of people from all over South Africa and beyond signed on as supporters of this group.