Fracking discussion continues on SA Daily Maverick

An interesting exchange between Jonathan Deal, author of Fruit of The Poisoned Tree on Daily Maverick February 14 – and Bruce Young.

Dear Jonathon

Perhaps it would also be useful if you were to also investigate the potential benefits of shale gas. The shale gas revolution in America has generated a lot of prosperity and many jobs. There is copious literature on this topic but you could start with this week’s Economist.

The South African situation is not entirely analogous because we lack the infrastructure in North America amongst many other factors. However South Africa is a poor country and there could be many economic benefits and jobs created.

Energy is the master resource and the need for energy will grow as the population grows and average prosperity grows. You are completely silent on the realistic options and trade offs that will have to be made. You are simply against fracking. What are your views on coal and nuclear because they need to form part of a sensible discussion. What are your views on what electricity should cost poor South Africans?

The global energy landscape is a complex topic.

Jonathan’s reply

Dear Bruce,

thank you for a balanced and courteous observation. TKAG is actually involved in and committed to the development of a science-based Strategic Environmental Assessment ( of shale gas in South Africa so, it is not true to say that we are simply against fracking. We are indeed against fracking in South Africa under the circumstances in which we view the application of science, sensible discourse and appropriate public communication as not yet having occurred.

For instance, the department of Health in SA is yet to comment
on fracking – just one example of departments that should have been included in an assessment, which by definition would include various sciences and not just those relating to extracting minerals and selling them for a profit.

For example the US EPA with reference to a Scientific Integrity
Policy not only proclaims that “Science is the backbone of our
decision-making” but also defines science as an expansive term that must reference: basic, science, applied science, social science, statistics, engineering, economics and technology. My article is making the statement that under no circumstances can Minister Shabangu and her advisors demonstrate to the public of South Africa that the document that they placed in front of our
Cabinet was appropriate and sufficient to inform a decision of the magnitude of shale gas mining in a country with limited water and a dearth of infrastructure for the harvesting, distribution and burning of shale gas.

As to what electricity should cost poor South Africans, it
should be subsidised (as it is) by richer South Africans who should be exponentially penalised for using more than a base amount on a national average. Moreover, the cessation of plain stupid moves like subsidising BHP Billiton to the tune of R11.2 billion should also not be happening, and as for sending about 300MW of power to Zimbabwe, who can’t pay for it, and settling their historic power debt to SA by taking shares in that utility – well – enough said. One more thing on cost – is there anywhere – as far as you are
informed – an undertaking by any of the applicants or the state that when shale gas (if shale gas) is mined in SA – the price of electricity will decline? I think it is atrocious that Shell can commence a pro-shale gas video shot in SA with the line that there are 9 million South African’s without electricity – as if they are in a position to make sure that after shale gas everyone will have electricity.

You are 100% correct about the fact that energy is the master
resource. The issue with energy and the environment is that our plans on growth are based on availability of energy. The concept of Energy returned on Energy invested (EROEI) is little discussed, but underpinned in this reply by simple statistics:

Oil fields in the 1930’s yielded around 100 units of energy for every unit consumed in extraction (100:1). As the cost of using energy to extract energy has increased, falling to a global average of 37:1 in 1990 to 15:1 in 2010 and may decline to just 10:1 in 2020 (about the time that Shell promise to be producing shale gas for SA). If that point is reached, energy will be about 50% more expensive – in real terms – than it is in 2014. That is a metric that will impact on the cost of everything else, including food. After that, there is a near vertical drop in energy recovery ratios.

So Bruce, sustainability – in the true sense of the word is
something that should also be considered before embarking on a national project with a new technology that places basic resources such as food and water at risk.

Remember, my article said that I was not claiming that
proponents are fracking are wrong or that the converse applies – I am simply asking that the debate be properly, openly and honestly considered and that mega rich corporations should stand back and shut up, while our government and engaged members of academia and other stakeholders can consider it properly.

Thank you.

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