Are the pro-frackers in SA ready to roll the dice?

Here is the response from David Johnson to ‘@davidjohnson gets his answer’ and my response to that. A positive response from David, to a public debate is awaited.

A response to Jonathan Deal

December 27, 2013

In my article “We can’t treasure only the Karoo” I questioned the approach of the Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG). You can read my original article, followed by a response from TKAG chairman Jonathan Deal, by clicking here. What follows is my reply to Jonathan.

Energy demand

Jonathan’s view that saving energy beats creating new supply, including reducing street lighting, is indisputable. Jonathan also correctly highlights that South Africa’s “electricity demand has not increased for five years”. But if this is meant to imply that the future holds anything but an increased demand for electricity, Jonathan is being, at best, misleading. Here are three reasons why.

Firstly, South Africa’s economy is heavily dependent upon energy intensive industries like iron and steel production. Over the past five years, production in these industries has been suppressed due to the global financial crisis, leading to less electricity demand. There can be little doubt the global economic recovery, which is slowly gaining momentum, will once more fuel demand for raw materials and result in increased electricity consumption.  Jonathan has, unfortunately, not uncovered a long term trend.

Secondly, if South Africa’s current population growth rate holds for just ten years, today’s 53 million people will become 60,5 million by 2024.  They will all need electricity.

Thirdly, 22% of South African households remain reliant on paraffin, wood, coal or animal dung as their energy source for cooking and 11% use candles for lighting. As South Africa makes its way up the ladder of prosperity and the government acts on its aim to ensure at least 95% of South Africans enjoy access to electricity by 2030, the number of people using electricity will rise, probably very significantly.

Whilst I agree with Jonathan that it would be wonderful if behavioural change could eliminate the need to generate additional energy, this is quite simply unrealistic. Suggesting electricity demand will do anything but climb is at best delusional and at worst dishonest.

A genuine environmental argument

A genuine environmental response requires a much more robust scientific foundation than arguments such as Jonathan’s trite “Shell is evil” mantra. Simplistic slogans might attract tabloid attention but are a gross simplification of the options we face and seek to pass culpability from us individuals, who collectively demand increased electricity generation, to one of many corporates extracting fuels because of the demand we have ourselves created.

A scientific analysis of all electricity generation options, which would satisfy our reasonably anticipated increased electricity demand, is the only way to enable meaningful comparisons between the impacts of rival generation methods. This is the essential first step to conclude which option is the least environmentally damaging. There is currently no such scientific analysis and, without it, we can’t rationally conclude which is the least environmentally damaging method of meeting our electricity needs (be it by shale gas, renewables or any other method). TKAG are either guessing fracking is worse, or do not care about the impacts of the alternatives.

Meaningless comparisons

At one point Jonathan writes “although [solar installations] can be large, they don’t have to be concentrated in only five places nationally”. Well, of course not. If solar were to make a meaningful contribution to the nation’s energy needs we could, for instance, construct one massive solar plant plastering 1,000 km2 of the Karoo, have tens of thousands of tiny plants dotted around the whole country, or something in between.

Jonathan’s offer of 500 hectares for a solar plant may be a generous offer of land from an individual, but a 500 hectare solar plant could produce nothing more than 0,5% of the estimated pre-2030 capacity shortfall, an almost irrelevant amount in national terms.

If the Karoo’s vast shale gas reserves were only capable of generating a similar amount of electricity to Jonathan’s proposed solar plant, no one would be interested in extracting them. But they are not. Jonathan is comparing apples with orange groves.

Distraction techniques

Jonathan questions the contractual relationship between government and BHP Billiton, the multinational mining and petroleum company, and believes it is “telling” that nowhere in my article do I comment on the “conduct of the South African government”. The relationship between private companies and the government undoubtedly bears watching. But even if this arrangement was appalling for the taxpayer it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is also bad for the environment, or that other companies are any different. It also has no bearing on the scientific comparison of environmental impacts between alternative energy sources. Whatever source of energy is ultimately utilised, the dangers of private and public sector corruption are always present.

The Nimby polemicist

When Jonathan states “Gas is available right now on the international market and can be delivered to Eskom at between $12.50 and $17.50 per mcf” he inadvertently but unmistakably paints himself as a Nimby campaigner as I previously suggested. Does Jonathan believe the extraction of foreign gas has no environmental impacts? Has he factored in the environmental costs of transporting gas internationally rather than domestically? Are South Africa’s ports large enough to process this gas, or would further devastation of the areas around Richard’s Bay, Mossel Bay and Saldanha be required to enable shipment? Some of this foreign gas is produced by Shell. Would Jonathan still consider Shell “evil” if they merely imported foreign gas?

I don’t doubt Jonathan cares deeply about the Karoo, but does he also care whether importing gas and therefore exporting our energy impacts could have a greater environmental impact than sourcing gas domestically? It appears not. I do.

In conclusion

I feel bound to re-state my position clearly, since Jonathan’s response almost completely ignored the central point of my original article.

1.    It is inescapable that we will require additional electricity generation capacity in the future, whether or not people become more responsible in their energy use (and I sincerely wish they would).

2.    I do not want to see the Karoo fracked. I do not want to see the Mpumalanga wetlands and grasslands destroyed for coal. But it hurts no less to think of the pollution around Baotou in China, where the polluted groundwater is slowly leaching towards the Yellow River. No true environmentalist would ignore the detrimental environmental impacts on other countries’ biodiversity of importing gas, any other fuel, or the manufacture of components for making energy infrastructure.

3.    We should be honest, scientific and detailed in our approach. Renewable energy and foreign sourced fuels have detrimental environmental impacts too. We shouldn’t pretend a 500 hectare solar plant is more than a drop in the ocean of our inescapable future energy needs.

4.    I want to know, and any true environmentalist should want to know, which is the least bad environmental option? We simply do not know the answer to this question without a proper scientific comparative analysis.

The Karoo is privileged to have a vocal single-issue NGO that shouts more loudly than the voiceless Chinese communities suffering from REE production, the people of Mpumalanga who lack a single topic anti-coal NGO and the coastal communities who are yet to realise importing gas would likely threaten additional local habitat with port expansion. But from the perspective of the global environment, the TKAG’s unscientific, localised and exclusionary approach is dangerous. It should not be supported by anyone with a genuine concern for environmental conservation in both the Karoo and beyond it.


1.    National Development Plan 2030, National Planning Commission, November 2011
2.    Statistical release P0301.4, Census 2011, Statistics South Africa, October 2012
3.    Statistical release P0302, Mid-year population estimates 2013, Statistics South Africa, May 2013

Perhaps it’s time to roll the dice?

Picture the South African landscape, if you will, as a living tapestry of environment and humanity. Poised above the landscape is a giant clock symbolising the confluence of climate change, unemployment, hunger, water, food, and other critical resource shortages, and the increasing needs of a growing world population.

Now juxtapose the landscape with a craps table. Poised above the table are the words: development=prosperity, and sustainability=survival. Just as in the game, on this real-life craps table there is a line. Staying behind the line may deny present generations the prosperity that they believe can be theirs. Passing the line may irrevocably destroy the prosperity of future generations.
Standing on the left and right of the table respectively are the environmentalists and the global developers. The environmentalists must admit that they are in the game as consumers of energy and users of technology – but they seek to reduce and limit that consumption and use, to preserve the system (Gaia) on which future life depends.

The developers claim a loftier cause – it is because of them that the world has an economy, energy, and food, transport, clothes and medicines – they have a connection with the people of the planet – they will never place the planet before its people. Their technology is the only path of survival for the world, their fossil fuels the lifeblood of the planet, and their determination to ramp up the production of fossil fuels to increase consumption simply a necessary and humane response to a rapacious world.

Given the chasm between the positions of environmentalists and the developers, the only thing to which any certainty can be attached is that the future will reveal whether onshore shale gas is the miracle answer to jobs, energy, prosperity and carbon emissions that it is claimed to be, or if, as prophesied by the environmentalists, it turns out to be an additional, unnecessary and risky fossil fuel that will place its extractors and consumers in a worse place than they were before its advent.
So often, in large development projects (and on a global basis, fracking may turn out to be the largest) the developers make many claims and promises. Often too, those who support the developers may not have to live with, or even acknowledge the consequences of the development – they may have the luxury of watching the tableau unfolding from a safe distance. In the hurly-burly world of international finance, faster transaction times, 24-hour global media, and an always-new war, famine, flood, fortune or other global news event, the promises of the developers and their supporters are quickly forgotten.
Nobody calls them to public account saying perhaps; “you promised 300 000 permanent jobs, you promised no pollution, you promised 3.5% growth, you promised that shale gas would make our air cleaner, you promised that fracking carried no health risk, that you would leave the Karoo better than you found it, that there would be more water for communities to use after fracking than there was before.”


The environmentalists are prepared to be somebody. Based on what has transpired, and is unfolding where fracking is happening, based on the actual results of extractive operations – in this country – and others, managed by the same companies who seek to mine shale gas in South Africa, based on the actual documented status quo of our Department of Minerals and its lack of control over the mining sector when viewed with its refusal to enforce the environmental laws and based, inter alia, on the slipshod investigation that has informed the Cabinet’s decision on shale gas mining, the environmentalists state:

    1. While the US EPA has still to complete it’s own congressionally mandated investigation into fracking;
    1. While bans, moratoria and restrictions on fracking, or parts of the process continue to exist and increase in more than 210 locations around the world;
    1. While scientists cannot agree on the economics, health and pollution impacts of shale gas mining;
    1. In the absence of an open, agreed, inclusive strategic environmental assessment of the real contribution to be expected from the exploitation of South African shale gas for the South African economy, under South African conditions;
    1. In the face of determined and self-serving marketing of shale gas by those with a great deal of money on the line; and
    1. Within the context of the climate change, population and resource debates, we state categorically that shale gas can be sourced off-shore, at a comparative price to that from under South Africa, without the environmental risk presented onshore, and without the potential to displace presently sustainable jobs in tourism and agriculture as well as the urban jobs supported by those industries. We claim too, that the gas will come with a huge gas-related infrastructure bill for the SA taxpayer to absorb, plus significant secondary costs to the fiscus (SA taxpayer) at municipal, regional and national level. We claim that the South African public – those not on the receiving end of handsome profits and undisclosed ‘loyalty rewards’ – will rue the day that shale gas mining was let loose on their environment – that is if they remember what was promised and compare it with what happens.

It is nonsensical to point to existing and historical environmental devastation here – and abroad – and use that as a reason to introduce a new type of damage – to claim that because we have damaged so much of our country, we may as well damage all of it, to accuse those who are awake to the consequences, of being self-serving Nimbys.

Prosperity today is worth nothing if it robs future generations of their right to also enjoy sustainable prosperity.

Call us obtuse, call us dishonest, and deride us for being emotional, and then roll the dice if you will publicly accept the consequences.

Chesapeake in for over R100m in fines and costs related to fracking in US

These violations occurred in the US where:

1. There is a well-equipped and transparent environmental agency

2. The area around the drilling is well-populated – not remote like the Karoo

3. The authorities don’t turn a blind eye to viloations

Nevertheless, SA pro-frackers, claim that the risks from fracking are ‘small, and easily manageable.’ From the safety of a suburban existence, where water comes from the end of a tap, it may seem so.

December 19, 2013

Energy Company to Pay $3.2 Million Penalty to Resolve Clean Water Violations in West Virginia

Chesapeake Appalachia LLC to spend estimated $6.5 million to restore areas damaged by natural gas extraction activities

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice announced that Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC, a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy, the nation’s second largest natural gas producer, will spend an EPA-estimated $6.5 million to restore 27 sites damaged by unauthorized discharges of fill material into streams and wetlands and to implement a comprehensive plan to comply with federal and state water protection laws at the company’s natural gas extraction sites in West Virginia, many of which involve hydraulic fracturing operations.

The company will also pay a civil penalty of $3.2 million, one of the largest ever levied by the federal government for violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA), under the Section 404 program, which requires a federal permit prior to the discharge of dredge or fill material materials into wetlands, rivers, streams, and other waters of the United States.

“Ensuring environmentally-sound and legal natural gas production is critical to protecting wetlands and local water supplies that communities depend on,” said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “By enforcing the law with a large producer like Chesapeake Appalachia, we’re also helping to level the playing field for businesses in this industry.”

“With this agreement, Chesapeake is taking important steps to comply with state and federal laws that are essential to protecting the integrity of the nation’s waters, wetlands and streams,” said Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “We will continue to ensure that oil and gas development, including development through the use of hydraulic fracturing techniques, complies with the Clean Water Act and other applicable federal laws.”

The federal government and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) allege that the company impounded streams and discharged sand, dirt, rocks and other fill material into streams and wetlands without a federal permit in order to construct well pads, impoundments, road crossings and other facilities related to natural gas extraction. The alleged violations being resolved by today’s settlement occurred at 27 sites located in the West Virginia Counties of Boone, Kanawha, Lewis, Marshall, Mingo, Preston, Upshur and Wetzel, including 16 sites involving hydraulic fracturing operations. The government alleges that the violations impacted over 12,000 linear feet of stream, or approximately 2.2 miles, and more than three acres of wetlands.

The settlement requires that the company fully restore the wetlands and streams wherever feasible, monitor the restored sites for up to 10 years to assure the success of the restoration, and implement a comprehensive compliance program to ensure future compliance with the CWA and applicable state law. The company will also perform compensatory mitigation, which will likely involve purchasing credits from a wetland mitigation bank located in a local watershed.

EPA discovered some of the violations through information provided by the public and routine inspections. In addition, the company voluntarily disclosed potential violations at 19 of the sites following an internal audit. In 2010 and 2011, EPA issued administrative compliance orders for violations at 11 sites. Since that time, the company has been correcting the violations and restoring those sites, in full compliance with EPA’s orders.

The settlement also resolves alleged violations of state law brought by WVDEP. The state of West Virginia is a co-plaintiff in the settlement and will receive half of the civil penalty.

In a related case in December 2012, the company pled guilty to three violations of the CWA related to natural gas extraction activity in Wetzel County, at one of the sites subject to today’s settlement. The company was sentenced to pay a $600,000 penalty to the federal government for discharging crushed stone and gravel into Blake Fork, a local stream, to create a roadway to improve access to a drilling site. The company has already fully restored the damage done to the site.

Filling wetlands illegally and damming streams can result in serious environmental consequences. Streams, rivers, and wetlands benefit the environment by reducing flood risks, filtering pollutants, recharging groundwater and drinking water supplies, and providing food and habitat for aquatic species.

Chesapeake Appalachia engages in the exploration and production of natural gas in the Appalachian Basin. The company has oil and natural gas properties in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

The consent decree, lodged today in the Northern District of West Virginia, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court approval. The consent decree is available for review at

More information about the settlement:

@davidjohnson gets his answer on fracking

I had not planned to respond to this view, but a mail from Johnson asking what I thought of his piece required the courtesy of a reply.

Here is a view from @davidjohnsonsa – and my response.

We can’t treasure only the Karoo DAVID JOHNSON

December 7, 2013
First published on 7 December 2013 in By, the supplement of Die Burger, Beeld and Volksblad.

Single issue conservation NGOs can wield great influence and gain much publicity for their causes. A responsibility to ensure they really are promoting the best deal for conservation should go with this, but a high profile does not ensure that’s always the case. The Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG) may be a case in point.

South Africa’s National Development Plan identified a need to build around 30,000 megawatts of new electricity generation capacity by 2030. To visualise the infrastructure necessary to generate that much power, imagine fifteen Koeberg nuclear power stations.

This capacity must be built somewhere, whether it is generated by coal, renewables, gas or any other means. Pragmatic conservationists should therefore prepare the environmental case on how to satisfy that energy hunger in the least environmentally detrimental way, based on sound scientific evidence, not emotion. Calls by anti-fracking lobbyists, TKAG, to prevent fracking in the Karoo neither lessen electricity demand, nor adequately provide an alternative. TKAG’s “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) approach pushes impacts elsewhere and risks, perhaps, even greater environmental harm than that they seek to prevent.

Anyone thinking renewable energy is “clean energy” should visit Baotou in China, the epicentre of world rare earth element (REE) production. The REE industry has led to Baotou being blighted by radioactively contaminated soil and groundwater and the air is laced with solvent vapour. REEs are an essential component in wind turbine manufacture.

China produces over 90% of the world’s REEs and their lower level of environmental regulation keeps down costs. If anti-fracking groups exaggerate the theoretical risk of Karoo groundwater contamination, leading to increased wind energy generation rather than utilising our gas reserves, we export some of our environmental side effects and contaminate someone else’s groundwater.

Solar power also has environmental issues, one being the immense amount of land needed. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has reported on solar power plant land requirements in the USA. There are many variables in calculating averages and these figures were based on US solar plants so should be treated with caution, but their “total area capacity weighted average” shows that a solar power plant capable of generating 20% of South Africa’s anticipated pre-2030 power capacity shortfall would require over 200 km2 of land. That is a larger tract of land than the entire Camdeboo National Park in the Karoo. If you know of a piece of land with no biodiversity value that size please step forward. If solar is to satisfy the anticipated pre-2030 energy demand shortfall we need five of them.

Working at the coalface of conservation, in the Mpumalanga grasslands and wetlands, is Kerryn Morrison of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT). Kerryn explained how the “grasslands are one of the most threatened ecosystems in the country and wetlands are the most critically endangered ecosystem we have.” Media coverage of the threats from coal mining in these habitats is minimal compared to that about fracking in the Karoo, but that doesn’t mean they have less value.

Around 75% of the grasslands of Mpumalanga are currently under mining application or being mined. In Mpumalanga’s Steenkampsberg many of the proposed mining operations hold coal reserves which would last merely a couple of years. Mining these areas means critically important habitat will be destroyed for a relatively small quantity of coal.

Kerryn says that a blanket ban on future coal mining is simply implausible, and of course she’s right, but it goes further than that. A ban on future coal mining would merely displace energy impacts elsewhere.

The EWT is part of local consortium of NGOs and government bodies, led by the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), seeking to establish the best way to formally protect areas with a high biodiversity and water resource value. Proclamation will largely secure such areas from unsustainable development and conserve our natural heritage. The mining industry has been included in discussions.

The approach of prioritising sensitive areas and not objecting to coal mining en masse is both pragmatic and likely to be more effective in the long run. A total ban on fracking in the Karoo is similarly unlikely. If TKAG used its considerable resources and profile to seek the formal protection of those areas of the Karoo with the highest biodiversity value, it could be doing the Karoo a far greater service.

Many of the exploration companies interested in the Steenkampsberg’s coal are small scale miners, invested in a single site. It would be reasonable to expect many of these companies to be wound up at the end of their mine’s short lifecycle. Acid mine drainage, the outflow of acidic water from disused coal mines, can often occur a decade after the mining ceases, years after many of the Steenkampsberg miners will have been liquidated. No one can force a company which no longer exists to rehabilitate.

Much of the Karoo anti-fracking commentary is simply along the lines of “Shell is evil”. Blaming large multinational corporations for the world’s ills is both fashionable and likely to grab tabloid attention. This ignores the obvious point that it’s better to have multinationals like Shell than companies which are unlikely to be around in a few years’ time which can’t be forced to rectify any pollution they cause.

All forms of generating power have negative environmental impacts. If fracking the least sensitive parts of the Karoo leads to less mining of the critically endangered Mpumalanga wetlands, fewer hundreds of square kilometres of land being plastered with solar panels and a lower demand for REEs meaning less groundwater pollution in someone else’s backyard, that is likely to be an environmental victory. We shouldn’t treasure only the Karoo.

To be certain of the least damaging means (or combination of means) of generating South Africa’s electricity requires a detailed scientific analysis of all energy options and their effects. It is not good enough to say “we need renewables, not gas”. Precisely where will these renewables be located and what are their impacts? We must make fair comparisons.

Creating public anxiety based on prejudices against fracking, along with encouraging assumptions that renewables have no negative implications, is a dangerous tactic which can lead to net global environmental harm. Preventing fracking in the Karoo does not lessen electricity demand. Worse, if it leads to more significant environmental impacts occurring elsewhere, anti-fracking lobbyists are nothing more than local champions and NIMBY activists. Environmental victories should only be won on scientific evidence and not on who shouts loudest.

What is fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a technique to extract shale gas deposited in rock deep underground. A high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals is injected into rock causing cracks, sand particles keep the cracks open and that allows the gas to flow to the surface. The water scarce Karoo is thought to have rich shale gas reserves.


1. National Development Plan 2030, National Planning Commission, November 2011.

2. Eskom power stations, Eskom, February 2013. Click here for the link.

3. Rare Earth Elements: A Review of Production, Processing, Recycling, and Associated Environmental Issues, United States Environmental Protection Agency, December 2012. Click here for the link.

4. Rare-earth mining in China comes at a heavy cost for local villages, The Guardian, 7 August 2012. Click here for the link.

5. After China’s Rare Earth Embargo, a New Calculus, New York Times, 29 October 2010. Click here for the link.

6. Boom in Mining Rare Earths Poses Mounting Toxic Risks, Yale Environment 360, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, 28 January 2013. Click here for the link.

7. Land-Use Requirements for Solar Power Plants in the United States, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, June 2013. Click here for the link.

8. Camdeboo National Park, Park Management Plan For the period 2013 – 2023. Click here for the link.

Links active on 2 December 2013.


Mr. Johnson refers to ‘single-issue’ NGO’s and mentions TKAG as a case in point. Some might question his position by asking: “Would TKAG be more palatable were it a multi-issue NGO?” Does Johnson recognise that the plethora of mining and development issues currently on the global table are at once broad and specialized? Does he believe, for instance, that a ‘multi-issue’ organisation such as WWF has been effectively heard on fracking in SA?

The reference to 15 Koeberg’s is impressive. What may be less known is that SA’s electricity demand has not increased for five years. Moreover, the plaintive bleating about gas, of the (outgoing) Eskom chief, is belied by the fact that he has nothing to use to turn all of that gas into energy. Nor any plans as to neither how it will be distributed around SA or as to who will pay for that infrastructure. Gas is available right now on the international market and can be delivered to Eskom at between $12.50 and $17.50 per mcf. Perhaps we should question (rather than TKAG’s pragmatism) the daily contribution of Joe public to BHP Billiton, and the arrangement between SA and Zimbabwe that sees our hard-earned power leaving the country.

Pragmatic conservationists, especially in single issue NGO’s, must of necessity base their approach to an issue on a strategic assessment of facts surrounding a specific question. In SA we call this a STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENT ASSESSMENT (SEA) – and it does not imply a count of rabbits, birds and bees. Rather the ‘scientific evidence’ desired by Johnson should be launched within the context of an SEA, wherein “science” is an expansive term that references the full spectrum of scientific endeavors – basic science, applied science, engineering, technology, economics, social sciences, and statistics. The SEA should also be open, inclusive and widely published by the government.

It is telling for me, that nowhere in Johnson’s article is there any acknowledgement of the damage that has been done to public debate on shale gas mining in SA by the recalcitrant, secretive and dysfunctional conduct of the South African government. It may perhaps be easier to call environmentalists emotional and accuse them of being Nimbys. On the subject of Nimbys, a quick glance at the TCP, Exploration and Mining activity maps of South Africa to be found on the PASA website will show that gas prospecting is quickly spreading around the length and breadth of South Africa. If that is ‘in my backyard’ then I will accept the label of NIMBY – but only under that proviso.

One wonders, based on Johnson’s assertions, if we should suspend a move towards renewables because of the status quo in China? Also absent from his view is any mention of the debate (yes, science based) raging around the claim of just how much cleaner methane is than coal. But for the sake of this point, let’s accept that methane (and the fracking process) is as clean and green as the fracking proponents claim it is. And that fracking would be so successful that it replaced coal in SA over time. Apart from all the coal jobs to be lost, and wasted investment in power stations, the real point towards which I am moving is that the government (any government) will not leave that coal (money) in the ground. So it will be exported to a country that will burn coal. As the environment, within the context of climate change belongs to everyone on earth and pollution does not recognise sovereign boundaries, the argument for gas over coal is moot.

There are a number of large-scale solar installations under construction, one right next to the N1 near Touwsrivier in the Western Cape. They are modular, can be easily erected and although they can be large, they don’t have to be concentrated in only five places nationally. I have been completely off-the grid for years, and have reliable energy, with no emissions and no noise. Saving energy also beats creating new supply any day of the week, and we could do an enormous amount by reducing street lighting in cities. Rural places and the N1 are in darkness at night and people survive. Another way to save energy (and water) would be to consider just how much energy is used to bring water from long distances away, purify it (with more energy) and then use even more energy to send it (as clean drinking water) to fancy homes in lush suburbs to water big green lawns and road verges. A reckoning of what the green lawns cost SA in water and energy would be an eye-opener for those trumpeting about how we need energy.

In 2011, I offered (on radio in conversation with Bonang Mohale) to make 500 hectares of land on our property in the Karoo available to Shell on condition that they would (a) fill it with solar panels to feed into the grid) and (b) withdraw from fracking. There goes the ‘NIMBY’ label.

The distinction between EWT and TKAG is confusing. Firstly, that organisation is part of a formal alliance with TKAG against fracking and secondly, the issue (coal mining) that they are addressing has a long history in SA and around the world. Fracking, by contrast, is fraught with scientific debate, the subject of more than 200 bans, moratoria or restrictions, assailed by a growing international opposition, and only about 14 years old in terms of high-volume horizontal slick-water fracking. TKAG is also not quite three years old. Not really a fair, pragmatic or intelligent comparison.

Pragmatism, as a strategy could be effective if our government stepped up to the plate instead of permitting Minister Shabangu to break one promise after the other, and perpetuate an ineffective and arrogant approach to mining and the environment.

On AMD rehabilitation, the two new pumps installed to deal with AMD, have come at a cost of R500 million. The figures for running them monthly are in the order of more than R10 million per month ‘forever’ – according to the engineers.

The point about ‘having companies like Shell around’ to fix their problems is nonsensical. Not only because of the record that Shell has globally of polluting, denying such pollution, bribing and finally paying a ‘slap-on-the-wrist fine’ to avoid jail, but also because it is trite that Shell et al will be followed by other smaller companies – or is there some special arrangement that has reserved South African gas for the ‘big five’? So, the point is not ‘obvious’, nor sensible. And yes, Shell is evil.

Fracking, an environmental victory? For who? This generation? The ANC? The US? Shell? Investec? Come on Mr. Johnson. You are conspicuously silent too, when observing how loudly TKAG shouts (a line borrowed from Mr. Bonang Mohale, country chair of Shell SA) but failing to observe how loudly Shell has shouted behind closed doors, on TV, radio and print, and in the offices of all our poorly informed and biased municipal officials. It would appear, that in your book, this does not constitute Shell ‘shouting the loudest‘ but simply exercising their given right to engage with (and influence) the decision-makers in this inept administration.

I find your article on this wide-ranging and complex issue, insular, simplistic and partisan. In just one line, (the reference to PASA and the proposed fracking activity around South Africa), your view has been effectively confronted – this is not just about the Karoo – its about the whole of SA.

I am happy to debate you on fracking in any forum of your choice in this country and look forward to your reply.

Phone me if you wish 023-358-9903.   Jonathan Deal, CEO, Treasure Karoo Action Group

About all those fracking jobs South Africa …

AfriForum/Treasure the Karoo Action Group

Job Creation, Environment

Media release

December 3



American multi-state report shows misleading job figures for shale gas


A recent report, (November 21st) released by a US think-tank of six authors – the Multi-State Shale Research Collaboration (MSSRC) measures US statistics and figures across a broad range of indicators in six States to conclude that shale gas industry employment figures claimed by the oil and gas industry and pro-industry groups in the US have been exaggerated.

TKAG Director of Operations, Jeanie Le Roux, announced today that the organisation had conducted an independent assessment of the circumstances under which the report was produced. “We have reviewed the authors, the organisations involved, funders, sources of data and the methodology employed by the authors to arrive at their conclusions and are satisfied that the report is a fair review of the actual situation in the United States. Given the government’s stance to pursue shale gas, the implications for South Africa are alarming.”

Julius Kleynhans of AfriForum Department of Environmental affairs observed that the manipulation of employment statistics in America manifested in a serious issue for South Africa in that “just as in America, government leaders in South Africa have been influenced by the hype and speculation surrounding shale gas jobs.” Kleynhans argued that “not only is this serious in terms of energy policy, but it is also shocking that unemployed people in South Africa are being promised jobs – to get them to support shale gas – jobs that may never materialize.” Referring to The MSSRC report , Kleynhans asked “If the report counts 8749 wells over the six states from 2005-2012, which is – 7 years of full production and jobs attributed to shale gas for the period are 33 000 or 1 in every 794 other jobs, how many wells will Shell and others have to drill to deliver the promised 300 000 to 700 000 jobs?”

Some key figures and points extracted from the report:

The Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative has examined employment in the Marcellus and Utica Shale in six states: Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Findings include:

  • New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia have a long history of gas and oil production and a core of extraction-related jobs created well before the emergence of hydrofracking. Together, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia had 38% of all producing wells in the country in 1990 and 32% in 2000.
  • Some counties with a long history of mineral extraction have experienced a shift in employment from coal to shale extraction.[8]
  • Natural gas development has advanced quickly in the Marcellus Shale bringing with it some economic benefit to counties with significant drilling activity. Those impacts helped to insulate those counties from the worst effects of the Great Recession but had little overall impact on the state economy in any state studied.
  • Job growth in the industry has been greatest (as a share of total employment) in West Virginia, but shale-related employment is less than 1% of total West Virginia employment and less than half a percent of total employment in all the other states.
  • Region-wide, shale-related employment accounts for nearly 33,000 jobs, one out of every 794 jobs. The education and health sectors, by contrast, account for 4.5 million jobs in the region, one out of every 6 jobs.
  • Between 2005 and 2012, less than four new shale-related jobs have been created for each new well. This figure stands in sharp contrast to the claims in some industry-financed studies, which have included estimates as high as 31 for the number of jobs created per well drilled. [9]
  • Employment estimates have been overstated, and the industry and its boosters have used inappropriate employment numbers, including equating new hires with new jobs and using ancillary job figures that largely have nothing to do with drilling, even after the flaws in those numbers have been brought to their attention.
  • In addition, industry-funded studies, including those by Dr. Timothy Considine and co-authors, have substantially overstated the total jobs impact of the shale industry. With the passage of several years since the earliest Considine studies, we now know that actual Pennsylvania job growth has been much less than his initial estimates for 2011 and 2012.

Finally, employment gains in some counties have already been reversed as drilling activity, which is highly sensitive to commodity prices, shifted to more lucrative oil shale fields in Ohio and North Dakota. In fact, shale-related employment across the six-state Marcellus/Utica region fell over the past 12 months for which data exist, from the 1st quarter of 2012 to the 1st quarter of 2013.


[1] Gilliland, Donald, “US Chamber of Commerce launches pro-gas campaign with inaccurate jobs numbers,” Harrisburg Patriot-News, July 19, 2012,
[2] Figures in this sentence come from Gilliland, Donald, “US Chamber of Commerce launches pro-gas campaign with inaccurate jobs numbers,” July 19, 2012, As explained in the body of this report, even the 5,611 additional ancillary jobs do not measure drilling-related employment created.
[3] The exaggerations embodied in this industry-funded study are examined in a later section of this report.
[4] U.S. Chamber’s Energy Institute Launches “Shale Works for US” campaign in Pennsylvania, July 19, 2012,
[5] Gilliland, Donald, “US Chamber of Commerce launches pro-gas campaign with inaccurate jobs numbers,” July 19, 2012,
[6] “Pennsylvania is already a leader in shale gas production which, by 2012, supported 180,000 jobs and will generate over $2.5 billion in state and local tax revenues.” U.S. Chamber’s Energy Institute Launches “Shale Works for US” campaign in Pennsylvania, July 19, 2012,
[7] Tom Feran, “Ohio Oil and Gas Association touts 40,000 new Ohio jobs, Truth-O-Meter Says: Pants on Fire,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 29, 2013,; Whitney Burdette, “Natural Gas Industry Creates Jobs in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, The (Charleston) State Journal (published online by Energy Speaks), June 17, 2011,; Friends of Natural Gas NY, “Jobs,” Friends of Natural, 2011,
[8] Amanda Weinstein and Mark Partridge, The Economic Value of Shale Natural Gas in Ohio, The Ohio State University Swank Program, December 2011,
[9] Timothy Considine, Robert Watson, and Nicholas Considine, The Economic Opportunities of Shale Energy Development, The Manhattan Institute, May 2011,


Elzane Grobbelaar

Treasure the Karoo Action Group

Phone Office: 021 824 2935



Julius Kleynhans

Cell: 082-829-9182