Eastern Cape Referendum on fracking proposed

After a long absence, Mr. Chris Nissen has hit the news again in support of fracking. Donwald Pressly reports in this article that Mr. Nissen speaks glowingly of job creation in the Karoo. This wishful thinking at best, is belied by the latest reports from Pennsylvania reported here, that PA is seeing its worst employment stats in three years. Jobs for South Africans – especially Karoo residents will be temporary, few and far between. That’s a fact Mr. Nissen.

  • Article rank
  • 4 Sep 2013
  • Pretoria News
  • Donwald Pressly

Chamber calls for vote on fracking

Graaff-reinet business body wants locals to decide

ANY DECISION on hydraulic fracturing in the Karoo should be put to the people in the communities that would be affected by the process in a vote such as a referendum, the GraaffReinet Chamber of Commerce has proposed.

The Graaff-Reinet Chamber of Commerce says locals should vote to decide whether to allow hydraulic fracturing in the Karoo.Chamber chairman Dawie Putter said that if GraaffReinet townsfolk were allowed to vote on whether hydraulic fracturing should go ahead, he believed that the overwhelming majority would vote against it.

The technique, also known as fracking, involves the injection of a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into shale rock to extract natural gas.

The campaigns in favour and against fracking have been reignited by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, who have described the industry as a potential game changer for the economy.

Further evidence that the controversial process of gas extraction was being given the thumbs-up by the government came yesterday.

Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa announced yesterday that she had issued a notice of intention to declare fracking “a controlled activity”. This means that any hydraulic fracturing activity would require a separate water licence.

Putter, who has a tyre and motor vehicle sales business in the Eastern Cape Karoo town, viewed by many as a possible service hub for the emerging gas extraction industry, makes no bones about his opposition to the process.

“There would be an overwhelming anti-fracking vote” in a referendum, he said.

Treasure the Karoo Action Group chief executive Jonathan Deal welcomed the idea of holding a referendum.

If such a referendum were to be held in the Karoo towns and countryside, it would probably need to take the form of municipal-led referendums or one organised by the Independent Electoral Commission, Deal said.

Graaff-Reinet, which is run by the ANC-led Camdeboo municipality that also includes Aberdeen and Nieu-Bethesda, appears to be more or less divided along race lines over the issue of fracking.

While the ANC leadership in the town mirrors national ANC leaders’ support for fracking, tour guide and bookshop owner David McNaughton described fracking as a doubleedged sword.

There was no doubt that hydraulic fracturing “will bring a lot of business to the town”, McNaughton said. Like North Sea oil had developed Aberdeen in Scotland, if Graaff-Reinet became a service hub “we will see a huge increase in demand for fully furnished homes to rent… [gas] companies will come in and hire properties… restaurants will open and car hire companies will do well.”

But on the other side of the coin, McNaughton said there was a huge question mark over the viability of the industry and how long it would last. Above all, there were major concerns about the long-term damage to the environment by the process.

There will be a significant injection. Nobody wants to say no to opportunities to create jobs.

“Nevertheless there will be a significant economic injection into the local economy. Nobody wants to say no to opportunities to create jobs and wealth,” he said.

The process presented a real conundrum, however. “If you talk to the white guy… he is anti-fracking… the black guy is very often pro-fracking.” The latter argued that it would create jobs and put food on the table, he pointed out.

But the big landowners had a lot to lose, he believed. “They are going to bear the brunt of any negative effects. The value of the land could go down… they could lose money,” he said.

Among the big names in the farming community is billionaire Johann Rupert, whose father Anton injected millions of rand to restore valuable buildings in the town. Although he did not want to talk to the media, his lawyer, Derek Light, has made it widely known that Rupert opposed fracking.

McNaughton noted that Deal, whose organisation has spearheaded the opposition to fracking in the Karoo and which is active in the town, had suggested that Graaff-Reinet was a likely site of the service hub for the industry.

McNaughton said there was a good chance that Deal could well be correct about that prediction. Other towns that could be in contention were Beaufort West and Murraysburg in the Western Cape.

McNaughton said a railway line running from Middelburg to Klipplaat – which ran through Graaff-Reinet – had recently being upgraded and a service road was being repaired. This could be a sign that Graaff-Reinet might be seen as a significant hub for the fracking industry in the future, he suggested.

Graaff-Reinet Tourism Association chairman Nick Grobler also made no bones about his opposition to fracking.

Fracking had the potential “to destroy the Karoo”. Part of the charm was that the Karoo was offered “in pristine condition” to tourists. If there was great damage to the environment, the tourism industry would be gone, he said.

Grobler suspected that access to clean water would become a big problem in the town if the water-thirsty industry got the go-ahead. The only dam had dropped to 12 percent capacity in droughts and the town had depended on underground water, which could be contaminated by fracking.

Karoo Development Foundation sustainability manager Doreen Atkinson, who lives in Philippolis, said the foundation focused on the pristine environment for tourism and for the Karoo lamb brand.

The problem with fracking was that “even if you don’t wreck the veld [by fracking] you will do damage to the reputation of the [pristine] brand”, she said.

The foundation aims to promote sustainable economic development in the greater Karoo region.

Deal welcomed the idea that Karoo towns including GraaffReinet – as part of the Camdeboo municipality – could call for referendums on fracking. But he said it was essential that voters, including farmworkers, were fully briefed on the dangers of fracking.

ANC leaders, including former ANC Western Cape leader Chris Nissen who now represents the Karoo Shale Gas Community Forum, which is centred in Graaff-Reinet and Middelburg, speak glowingly about the job opportunities that would ensue through fracking – although Nissen said it should be strictly controlled and regulated. But Dini Sobukwe, the son of the PAC founder Robert Sobukwe, is reported in local media to oppose fracking. The Robert Sobukwe Trust is based in Graaff-Reinet, his father’s home town.

Sobukwe junior was reported as saying that although poverty was severe in the area, fracking “will do nothing to ease these things. It will only destroy the greatest asset of the Karoo, which is its beauty.”

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