Oh deer, is Simon Lincoln Reader coming or going?

The historical dispute between hunters and Sherlock Holmes aficionados, as to the exact purpose of a deerstalker hat, presents, in my view, a comparable dilemma to that which I experience reading Mr. Simon Lincoln Reader’s open letter in Business Day to President Zuma, and comparing that acerbic text to his business plan description for RE:RE Capital. In fact, I feel almost like the proverbial deer being ‘stalked’ – not sure whether the hunter is coming or going. Here’s why.

In his letter to President Zuma, Mr. Reader spares little effort to place himself squarely in the pro-fracking camp.

Writing eloquently under a compendium of headings; ‘History and myth’, ‘Reality’, ‘Logic’ and ‘Perception’ Mr. Leader sets sail on his campaign to discredit environmentalists and emphasize the benefits of shale gas mining to President Zuma. My response to Mr. Reader’s letter, unpublished by Business Day for reasons best known to themselves can be read here.

Reader gets into the swing of things by making assumptions as to how my meeting with President Zuma will proceed, and suggests that because ‘forewarned is forearmed’ President Zuma would benefit from being presented with a précis of Reader’s ‘concerns.’

According to Reader, ‘Environmentalists and associated parties, … [such as] Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, have repeatedly proved themselves immaterial adversaries of rational debate.’ This would imply (reading further in the text) that there is presently an attempt by the oil and gas industry and its paternal ally – the South African Government to establish and maintain a ‘rational’ debate on an honest, inclusive and transparent platform.

Reader, not having been at a debate between ‘opinionista’ Ivo Vegter and I at Franschhoek, proceeds to relate to President Zuma, a hearsay (read anecdotal), account of the course of events at the debate and later in his text expresses the hope that President Zuma [not be] subjected to any such hostility.

Referring President Zuma to ‘One of the most competent ministers in your Cabinet’, Reader relates that Minister ‘Dipuo Peters, has often said, on record, that “should shale gas deposits be discovered in South Africa, these be exploited.’ In awarding Minister Peters his personal badge of merit and within the clear context of shale gas mining, Reader is perhaps unaware that after returning from a tour of Pennsylvania to investigate shale gas mining first-hand, Minister Peters is reported by the media as not being able to remember the names of towns that she had visited, but is reported to have said that she “thinks one of the towns was called Marcellus.”

By this point, it is clear, I submit, that even the most uninformed reader, would have arrived at the opinion that Reader is in favour of shale gas mining. For those harbouring any doubt, he firmly raises the pro-fracking flag:

‘Fracking, while undisputedly successful in North America, parts of Europe and Australia, has been sabotaged by subversive celebrity elements that shun science in favour of documentaries such as the Oscar-nominated Gasland — written and directed by environmental activist Josh Fox — as evidence to support myriad flimsy claims, many of which have been obliterated.’

Turning to the childrens tale of Pinnochio, Reader suggests that should President Zuma indeed watch ‘Gasland’ he may well be able to see the producer’s nose growing, on camera. Apparently not satisfied with trying to upstage Barry Ronge, Reader turns his pro-fracking ire to the film ‘Promised Land’ by Matt Damon, concluding his disparaging review by insinuating that environmentalists  propagate scare-tactic movements [that] are vehemently anti-development and risk averse, subscribing to the theory that progress is defined by a group of hippy guitarists surrounding a tree.’

Addressing the heading of ‘reality’ Reader quotes statistics on energy, employment, petroleum, and maths-and-science literacy to President Zuma, deducing that these problems ‘can only be alleviated by the prospect of development.’

Under the heading of ‘Logic’, Reader goes in for the kill. ‘Mr President, it is estimated that the Karoo is host to the fourth-largest deposit of shale gas in the world. The shale gas is located as deep as 4km below the surface, roughly 3.5km beyond the location of the water aquifers — the contamination of which form the lion’s share of the environmental lobby’s concerns (it has also mentioned local infrastructure and agriculture as potential “victims” of fracking).’

After a polymathic statement on the [disputed] reserves, where the water aquifers are, geological gradients, and the likelihood that ‘threats’, if there are indeed threats’ will ‘likely’ be mitigated by ‘rampantly advancing technology’, Reader continues: ‘The Karoo’, ‘is a landscape of symbolism, but the Galapagos Islands it is not. Yet to emphasise its agenda, the environmental lobby has presented premature and reactive propaganda that undermines due processes against the spirit of our environmental legislation.’ [Premature and reactive propaganda may be something of which the oil and gas industry and Ministers Peters (‘shale gas is a gift from God’) and Shabangu (‘Shale gas mining can be done safely in South Africa’) may also be accused.]

Wrapping up his public-spirited letter to the President, Reader exhorts President Zuma to apply the same responsible, effective and transparent approach that it has to the renewable energy programme,’ so that it [the government’s involvement] in ‘this potential gas industry’ ‘would be able to alter existing perceptions.’ In wishing President Zuma luck in his meeting with me, Reader expresses his hope that President Zuma will dispel the discredited myths.’

It is time to present the alternate side of the ‘deerstalker’.

Simon Lincoln Reader is listed as CEO & Chief Investment Officer of RE:RE Capital. I can’t help thinking of the adage, ‘he speaks with forked tongue’ as a fitting description of Reader’s conduct when comparing his letter to President Zuma with his corporate pitch for a poor community and the Government of the Western Cape to support his business venture.

Although I offer, for your consideration dear reader, some choice excerpts from Readers corporate statement, I do suggest that you read it all for yourself.

RE:RE Capital (Pty) Ltd is a boutique private equity firm, founded in 2011, specializing in the financing, development and support of renewable energy. [here is the first surprise – renewable energy – a specialist – really?’‘The firm is a subsidiary of The Forward Africa Renewable Energy Fund, South Africa’s first black-owned renewable energy company.’ [Crossed all the t’s and dotted all the I’s so far]

‘One of RE:RE Capital’s assets, the Paleisheuwel Solar Facility, located in the Cederberg Municipal Region… approximately 10km north of the agricultural support town of Paleisheuwel … The generation of renewable energy (solar photovoltaic) will subsequently provide the adjacent and neighbouring community with a source of clean, efficient and reliable energy. [what happened to the support for fracking?]

‘RE:RE Capital has sought to identify particular areas of additional assistance. One

of the principle features of the development exists in the creation of local employment that will support and maintain the solar facility, yet another area has been identified – that of agricultural education, [why bother with agricultural education when the Karoo will be ‘flourishing with fracking?] relevant to the development of communities with the intention of establishing an additional line of employment potential – a feature that will simultaneously serve to mitigate the minimal impacts upon agricultural potential the development makes. [Does Reader believe that the impacts of fracking on agricultural potential will also be ‘minimal’?]

‘Through its networks, RE:RE Capital … has …  FAADA – The Forward Africa Agricultural Development Academy – that will partner locally with Rooibos [Do the Rooibos growers want fracking anywhere near their air and water?] … to educate schools, communities and leaders about the future of agriculture [what about the bright future of shale gas] … nurturing a new generation of new farmers who will understand the benefits of renewable energy within the cycle of sustainable food production and security.’

The corporate intro continues: … ‘The addition of new industries is therefore critical to the employment factor – particularly industries with minimal environmental impact [does shale gas mining, in anyone’s mind fit into this category?] and who are, by mere virtue of structure, entirely sustainable. [Fracking? Sustainable?] There are two critical tiers of thought … firstly, to create employment [is it safe to assume that Reader is talking about sustainable employment?] and, secondly, to enable structures that contribute to the protection of the agricultural industry. Coupled to both is the developing relationship between agriculture and renewable energy.

Under ‘stage 2’ of ‘Conceptualisation’ Reader’s corporate pitch clarifies: ‘This will be the process whereby RE:RE Capital selects / invites academics, farmers, food, soil and sustainability experts, water and irrigation specialists, fauna and flora specialists, renewable energy companies and any other relevant party to submit presentations for consideration. [What? No representatives of the fracking industry?]

In Conceptualisation ‘2’ Reader lists as ‘stage 5’ the goal  ‘The completion of the FAADA farm, owned and managed by a community / communities, that utilizes only renewable energies in its production and irrigation techniques. [What no shale gas for this farm? – what happened to all the benefits of shale gas that Reader was telling President Zuma about?]

 Reader’s hopeful and sincere summary wraps up with emphasis that ‘The nature of RE:RE Capital’s business is partnerships: partnerships in the production of renewable energy, [what no shale gas?]RE:RE Capital understands the threats faced by agriculture [Really? Is fracking a threat or a benefit to agriculture?] … and, most importantly, cultivating the theme of sustainability [is there anything sustainable about shale gas Mr. Reader?] … Throughout the process undertaken thus far to the development of Paleisheuwel, RE:RE Capital has sought to express its interest in local employment [How many sustainable local jobs in the Western Cape from fracking Mr. Reader?] RE:RE Capital hopes that this initiative is met with the participation and support of the Western Cape Government’s Agricultural Department … [And may he express the hope that they never find out that he is a pro-fracker]

 So Mr. Reader, what do we have? Corporate doublespeak for money? Or just a journalist who misuses his column to write nonsense in support of his pro-fracking ‘opinionista’ friends? I’ll let you decide, while I decide whether or not to write the people of the Cederberg a letter warning them about you. In retrospect, your witty but untrue letter to our President may not have been such a good idea after all.

 Jonathan Deal – Chief Executive, Treasure Karoo Action Group

3 responses

  1. In my opinion he seems to be an egotistical megalomaniac who has a personal vendetta against yourself, willing to align himself and support the further destruction of our planet for his own ego.

  2. Hey Jonathan,

    As an objective outsider, I think perhaps you may be missing the point. I’ve read both your posts and Mr. Reader’s and I don’t think it’s quite as cut and dried as you make it.

    I co-own an innovation think tank that works for many top corporates in SA, in our experience there is a phasing that needs to be done when it comes to renewable energy.

    Consider this. Let’s say in the 1980s, some one decided that automatic cars were safer than manual cars and tried to force all South Africans to drive them. There would have been outrage. Why? Because the technology was not mature enough, as such it was expensive to role out, and not very efficient.

    I believe that we’re facing a similar problem in the renewable energy space.

    As much as I wish we could, I feel that if we try switch to renewable sources straight away, it will simply be cost-prohibitive and the technology will be frustrating to users (solar geysers cost three times that of their traditional counterparts).

    So we need to explore other avenues. We are 20 – 30 years away from a ubiquitous workable solution so we need to utilise energy like that found in shale gas in the meantime.

    So I can understand why an investor in long-term renewable energy would understand the need of a more immediate solution – timing is everything here and if we roll out renewable energy pre-maturely it will push up back decades. Basically, as I said, I think you are arguing one point and not looking at the big picture here.

    This post reads to me like someone trying to discredit the source, as opposed to the content itself. I personally find this approach empty and trite.

    I will sit back and look forward to the two of you openly arguing the merits of each other’s data, just not each other’s character.

    Poor form.

  3. Dear Richard, I am sincerely perturbed that my post was so badly written as to lead you to the assumption that I would force Mr. Reader to choose between renewables and shale gas mining. To the contrary, I hold a realistic view on the roll-out of renewables and the place of gas (note, not necessarily shale gas) in the energy mix.

    The dichotomy which struck me so clearly, and which you evidently are inclined to overlook, was contained within Mr. Reader’s rather cavalier statements (in my view) on the risk, cost and benefit of ‘fracking’ when compared to his corporate ‘pitch’ to a rural community. His document proposing a renewable energy installation is liberally underpinned by the concepts of ‘low environmental impact’ ‘clean energy’ and ‘sustainable jobs’. Perhaps a more critical observer would have anticipated that Mr. Reader, in his caveat to President Zuma about me, may have found some room to mention the possible role of renewable energy to our President whilst he extolled the potential of ‘fracking’ to address the economic woes of South Africa.

    I believe that it was untruthful of Mr. Reader to use the so-called benefits of shale gas mining, penning an insulting letter, whilst conveniently knowing that he actually has a demonstrable stake in renewable energy. His inclusion of an anecdote gleaned from another source, belies the fact that he was not at the debate in Franschhoek, and that it should realistically be unnecessary to warn President Zuma about my hostile conduct. His failure to consider (even sweepingly dismiss) the documented risks to groundwater associated with ‘fracking’, for a community such as that where his renewable energy project is located weighs against the veracity of his letter.

    Your observation is appreciated, inasmuch as it caused me to critically revisit my text. An even-handed critique of Mr. Reader’s text would also not be amiss, and I look forward to your response.

    On a separate note, please read this report [https://jonathandealblog.com/2013/07/06/renewables-to-surpass-gas-by-2016-in-the-global-power-mix/] from the International Energy Agency on the potential of renewables. I am not holding this document out as the definitive document in the renewables/fossil fuel debate – merely alerting you to its existence.

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