Fracking confusion is the order of the day for David Johnson

The debate continues. David’s response today – with my answer.

Jonathan Deal does it again!

January 10, 2014

Jonathan, in his previous article, again completely ignored the case I have put forward since this debate began. Initially I thought there was little point in repeating my argument once more, until I read comments on social media sites. Some readers aligned to TKAG’s view complimented Jonathan on his “rebuttal”. But a rebuttal would require Jonathan to actually address the main pillar of my original article, not merely say why he doesn’t like fracking, which is all he does. I will therefore restate my position in writing, for the fourth and final time.

The most effective approach to limiting the negative environmental effects of energy development is based on a scientific analysis of all generation options and their effects. This offers us an objective basis to debate, on environmental grounds, which kinds of energy should be preferred overall or in a particular area.

TKAG are uninterested in discussing the environmental impacts of alternatives to shale gas. Their position seems to be that as long as the Karoo is saved it doesn’t matter how electricity is generated or which land is degraded elsewhere in the process. Jonathan never addresses this environmental concern in his replies.

Jonathan makes a number of points which relate to fracking in general, but are completely extraneous to the issue in the articles he purports to respond to. Jonathan’s tactic of responding with only superficially relevant arguments is so well developed he should seriously consider entering politics, he’d be good at it. Here’s my response in a nutshell:


One of Jonathan’s often used anti-fracking arguments has been the risk of corrupt practices in the shale gas industry.

Transparency International’s “Corruption Perceptions Index 2013” rates 177 countries and territories from least to most corrupt. South Africa, at position 72, is one place below Italy, a country where mafia involvement in renewable energy has been widely reported for many years.

Last year about a third of Sicily’s 30 wind farms, in addition to several solar power plants, were seized by Italian authorities. Politicians and businessmen, “tenderpreneurs” in South African terms, were among those arrested for renewable energy linked corruption. One reason the mafia focussed on the renewable energy sector was the sector’s generous subsidies. In fact, it is arguable that subsidised industries, like renewables, are particularly susceptible to corruption.

It is foolish, at least, to think renewable energy, or any industry, is exempt from the danger of corruption. More importantly, corruption is an entirely irrelevant consideration when establishing which form of energy would be the least environmentally harmful. Corruptly owned mafia wind farms are financially as filthy as coal, but the energy they produce is as environmentally clean as that of wind farms financed by legitimate means.

Government competence

Drawing attention to examples of ministerial error could become South Africa’s national sport. Of course Jonathan can point to examples related to fracking; we could all do the same in just about any field regulated or financed by government. Nevertheless, even the most inept Minister of Energy will not miraculously morph into a model of efficiency and saintly honesty if fracking disappeared from the equation, leaving a choice between renewables or coal. Does Jonathan honestly believe these same ministers speak learnedly and authoritatively on means of generating energy besides shale gas?

When Jonathan refers to incapable politicians, it reminds me of those same politicians kissing babies or handing out food parcels. It’s a direct appeal to our emotions, regardless of the topic at hand. The fact that incapable politicians hold ministerial positions is no more relevant to which form of energy is the least environmentally damaging than it is to whether permitting lion hunts aids or harms conservation or whether our fish stocks require more conservative commercial line fishing quota rights.


Perhaps the greatest environmental benefit of wind and solar energy is that, after the infrastructure has entered service, it can be pretty much left to do its thing. There is no need for a continuous supply of fossil fuels. There is no need for thousands of miners to dig up those fossil fuels either.

Jonathan has drawn attention to shale gas proponents’ dubious employment statistics. He has a point. But it is an irrelevant one. No matter what the truth of those statistics, it is a safe guess that during their operational phases, substantially more employees will be needed to generate the same quantity of power at a coal-fired power station than at a solar plant.

Saving jobs is not an argument for environmentalists to rely on in this debate. Coal could be one of the better choices, if your prime concern is maximising employment, but not if your prime concern is lowering carbon emissions.


Jonathan refers to the part TKAG funded review of Econometrix’s “Special Report on Economic Considerations Surrounding Potential Shale Gas Resources”. From what Jonathan has said, it appears that the review of the Econometrix report is the only study in which TKAG has financially invested.

Unsurprisingly, as the Econometrix’s name suggests, the initial report and TKAG’s response to it do not look at the environmental impacts of our energy choices, but at the economic case for fracking. The strength of the economic case for shale gas is immaterial to the relative environmental impacts of extracting that gas.

Moving forwards

Jonathan has suggested we hold a public debate. I will be back in Cape Town in late March and I am hopeful that a debate in person rather than online might mean I can focus the debate on what really matters – the environmental impacts of all our potential energy choices. Anyone concerned about the environment in the Karoo as well as other places needs a markedly more mature response than the narrow nimby anti-fracking case of TKAG.

So I will accept the invitation, and will let you know when debate practicalities are settled.


1.     “Sting operations reveal Mafia involvement in renewable energy” Washington Post, 23 January 23 2013.

2.    “Italy makes ‘Mafia’ arrests over Sicily wind farms” BBC Online, 15 February 2013.

3.    “Analysis – Is the Italian mafia turning green?” Wind Power Monthly, 17 April 2013.

4.    “German homes, offices searched in mafia wind farm probe” Reuters, 19 November 2013.

5.    “Corruption Hit as Italy Cleans Up Wind Sector” Renewable Energy World, 10 June 2013.

6.    Corruption Perceptions Index 2013, Transparency International.


I had hoped to continue dialogue with David, focused more on the issues than on the literary and tactical idiosyncrasies, of he and I. David’s opinion insofar as it pertains to me personally, and his advice on career choice, while perhaps being sincerely motivated by a desire to see me in politics are thus dismissed for the purposes of this discussion. I too, am becoming bored with re-stating the same points for the fourth time. Thus in the interests of being very clear, I discard the application of brevity in this reply.


Now. I cannot but agree wholeheartedly with David that: “The most effective approach to limiting the negative environmental effects of energy development is based on a scientific analysis of all generation options and their effects. This offers us an objective basis to debate, on environmental grounds, which kinds of energy should be preferred overall or in a particular area.” A scientific analysis of all generation options is expected, by TKAG, within the context of shale gas mining – in South Africa – to mean exactly that. It must include the full spectrum of scientific endeavours – basic science, applied science, engineering, technology, economics, social sciences, and statistics – as stated in my first article in response to David. For the life of me, I cannot understand firstly how David feels that I disagree with him on this point; and secondly how David can be unaware that the efforts employed by the South African Government to produce a scientific analysis that will stand up to world standards of scientific analysis can be viewed as anything but inadequate.

The fact remains: Science in countries where shale gas mining is fully developed is unsettled, with for example, the US EPA heading towards an investigation that will last six years before they are willing to commit to Congress on their definitive findings on the process of shale gas mining. On the basis of three years of debate in South Africa, at least half of which has been lost to inefficiency, and having regard for the fact that the Government Departments invited to be on the task team excluded key players, it is trite that a scientific analysis, cannot be said to have been completed in South Africa to a level that can justify the issuing of licences for exploration .

‘Environmental impacts of specific energy technologies and our ability to choose’

It is untrue that TKAG are uninterested in discussing the environmental impacts of alternatives to shale gas. Firstly, David is raking over old coals when he refers to ‘as long as the Karoo is saved’ – he knows full well from my previous responses that this involves the whole of South Africa. To put it plainly – if fracking were to be banned or relinquished in the Karoo but still faced in KZN or other provinces, our involvement would not diminish. I trust that after the fourth time it is now crystal clear: fracking is a South African national issue – not a Karoo issue.

David’s argument around ’a choice of energy options’ would imply that we are sitting at a great meeting of elders – with no current energy generating technologies in place – and the question under discussion is “Elders, what energy options shall we choose?” Now David knows full well that the other options have all been chosen and are implemented and committed to in varying degrees. This is not a question of “shall we choose coal over nuclear or fuel oil over wind or gas over coal?” The country is already heavily invested in coal – not only in energy generation but also in export revenues and local jobs.


It is inaccurate to say that one of my often-used anti-fracking arguments is the risk of corrupt practices in the shale gas industry. I have been abundantly clear on the fact that the oil and gas industry is proven to be criminal in their practices. David points to Italian Mafia and renewable energy as an example, but the Mafia on their best day, cannot compete with the largest companies in the world – on any timescale. And in any event – the example is irrelevant because we are speaking of an additional and new technology that is not yet licenced or practiced in this country. In terms of corruption, the geographically closer example of Nigeria is a case worth considering. Royal Dutch Shell has behaved criminally in that country. I am also on record of stating, as I do again here today that Shell have been dishonest in their campaign on shale gas in this country. This is not a risk it is a reality.

Speaking of generous subsidies, the oil and gas industry worldwide, despite posting record profits, enjoys substantial subsidies that have been in place so long that they can be said to be an intrinsic part of the business. I make no guarantees that renewable energy operators are more honest than fossil fuel pedlars. Eskom, some would say, at the heart of our energy debate, currently transfers to BHP Billiton; a subsidy calculated to eventually cost South Africans R11.5 billion. The point is that until our energy environment is holistically controlled in a business-like way, it may be short-sighted to accept at face value, Eskom’s lamentations about energy delivery capacity.

Government competence

I take David’s subtle point on the inefficiency of Ministers and his reference to their lack of learnedness and authority when making decisions on other energy sources. The question is thus: Do you believe David, based on your view (about a lack of Ministerial perspicacity) that the same team who has lead South Africa into its current energy dilemma should be trusted to guide the country through a decision on shale gas?

David raises my comment on ‘incompetent politicians’ as if we are back at the ‘choice table.’ The truth is that there are significant and reasonable questions about many aspects of shale gas mining being raised by diverse communities on different continents. Moreover, those questions and the activities of many of those communities, sometimes in direct defiance of their legislators cannot be said by David, or anyone else in this country, to have been satisfactorily addressed to the point that it can be argued that the issuing of licences is justified under the current circumstances.


Juxtaposing employment with carbon emissions makes no sense to me. The reference by TKAG to jobs is based on two solid points. (1) The oil and gas industry bases its most emotive marketing on the creation of jobs. So their claims demand a like response. (2) The jobs claimed (routinely) by the industry – in any continent ignores displaced jobs – the industry simply uses ‘blue sky’ economic theories to sketch a veritable employment Xanadu – and they have the money to push those claims in world media and the hallowed halls of politics.


Finally, I get David’s point. The Economic benefits of shale gas are immaterial when considered within a discussion that is exclusively focused on the environmental impact of extracting that gas relative to the environmental impacts of extracting or producing energy from other sources. TKAG invested specifically in a review of the Econometrix report because it is that report which has been adopted by the South African government. This can be proved by a review of public quotes by South African Ministers. Therefore, we decided that a vast expense for TKAG and its supporters was justified. The results stood up to three peer-reviews – something to which the Econometrix report – and its ambassadors – have not been subjected.

The elimination by David, ‘of the strength of the economic case’ from this discussion, whilst being novel, simply obliterates three of the four pillars on which the shale gas proponents rely.

Moving ahead

David’s closing view contained at least one bright spot – that is his reference to the ‘environment in the Karoo and other places’ – it appears that he has at last accepted that this is beyond treasuring the Karoo. Were I tempted, to label David and his ilk, in the hackneyed fashion that TKAG has been labelled, I most likely would bestow the rank of FATFIFA – Frack Ahead The Future Is Fracked Anyway.

SA shale gas delay allows the truth out
Much to the chagrin of Royal Dutch Shell, other applicants for shale exploration licences and their friends in government and industry in SA, the ongoing delay in settling the question of shale gas extraction in SA is working to the benefit of the nation.


Simply because the lack of information, transparency, effective public information and consultation in SA, has created a situation in which licences would have been issued in a virtual vacuum of information. This is not to say that the government is necessarily uninformed, but rather that certain pro-gas players in the government were and are prepared to overlook the global issues connected with shale gas mining. It is not in the interests of the nation to be committed to a decision of this magnitude simply on the basis of the marketing hype of the oil and gas industry.

What does a delay in the issuing of licences mean?

It is providing a real opportunity for important facts about shale gas  mining in other countries to reach South Africans. On a daily basis the media and various organisations are publishing reports in connection with shale gas, and the news is overwhelmingly negative. The Oil and Gas industry is spending significant amounts of cash on lobbying governments and industry but appear to be failing in their bid to counter negative information about the controversial practice of shale gas mining.

What is a topical example of the ‘negative reports’ referred to?

Here are three:

1. At least 210 bans, moratoria or restrictions on the holistic shale gas mining process or on sections of it are recorded as being in place and enforced in various countries, regions, states, cities and towns around the world. These are increasing, as many legislative anti-fracking measures are still under consideration at the request of local communities.

2. A recent report ( published by Associated Press has alleged contamination of water in four US States. This report is being widely redistributed via global media.

3. By way of example of the volume of media reports on shale gas mining, I have recorded via a media monitoring service 9447 consolidated reports mentioning fracking. A rough average of the number of media articles per report is around four. That is somewhere in the order of         40 000 articles on fracking in an eleven month period from February 20 2013. I am not forwarding this as a claim that there are 40 000 negative articles about shale gas mining, merely making the point that this is indicative of the volume of information and perhaps disinformation connected to the technology. It establishes in my view, a clear requirement for the commencement of a planned Strategic Environmental Assessment of the technology in South Africa.

The government and the applicants are well aware that to give effect to the perhaps ill-timed promises of various Ministers and officials ‘to push ahead with shale gas’ without taking heed of international developments will expose them to significant risk of lawsuits.

It really is time for the SA Government to step up to the plate and stop being led around by the nose by Shell.

Colorado River shrinks in 14 year drought while Fracker’s play on its banks

A recent article by the exposed director of Fracknation in which he made a mockery of anti-fracking claims about the amount of water used in fracking, flies in the face of fact in more than one way. While he jests about water and fracking, communities in the South West may be bracing for a shortage of water for basic living.


Phelim McAleer posted a story ( exposing what he claimed are the ten biggest lies told by the anti-fracking lobby. Here is what he said about the supposed lie that fracking uses a lot of water:
8) Fracking uses a ton of water
Even fracking fans have a hard time swallowing the water stats for fracked wells: the EPA estimates that fracking used between 70 and 140 billion gallons of water in 2011. That sounds like a lot of H2O. Unless you have a lawn.
Americans use 20 times more water on their lawns than they do on fracking.

Colorado River Drought Forces a Painful Reckoning for States

To help the Colorado, federal authorities this year will for the first time reduce the water flow into Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, created by Hoover Dam. JIM WILSON / THE NEW YORK TIMES
January 5, 2014

LAKE MEAD, Nev. — The sinuous Colorado River and its slew of man-made reservoirs from the Rockies to southern Arizona are being sapped by 14 years of drought nearly unrivaled in 1,250 years.

The once broad and blue river has in many places dwindled to a murky brown trickle. Reservoirs have shrunk to less than half their capacities, the canyon walls around them ringed with white mineral deposits where water once lapped. Seeking to stretch their allotments of the river, regional water agencies are recycling sewage effluent, offering rebates to tear up grass lawns and subsidizing less thirsty appliances from dishwashers to shower heads.

But many experts believe the current drought is only the harbinger of a new, drier era in which the Colorado’s flow will be substantially and permanently diminished.

Faced with the shortage, federal authorities this year will for the first time decrease the amount of water that flows into Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, from Lake Powell 180 miles upstream. That will reduce even more the level of Lake Mead, a crucial source of water for cities from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and for millions of acres of farmland.

A connector will link the existing water infrastructure to a tunnel being built under Lake Mead.


Reclamation officials say there is a 50-50 chance that by 2015, Lake Mead’s water will be rationed to states downstream. That, too, has never happened before.

“If Lake Mead goes below elevation 1,000” — 1,000 feet above sea level — “we lose any capacity to pump water to serve the municipal needs of seven in 10 people in the state of Nevada,” said John Entsminger, the senior deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Since 2008, Mr. Entsminger’s agency has been drilling an $817 million tunnel under Lake Mead — a third attempt to capture more water as two higher tunnels have become threatened by the lake’s falling level. In September, faced with the prospect that one of the tunnels could run dry before the third one was completed, the authority took emergency measures: still another tunnel, this one to stretch the life of the most threatened intake until construction of the third one is finished.

These new realities are forcing a profound reassessment of how the 1,450-mile Colorado, the Southwest’s only major river, can continue to slake the thirst of one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions. Agriculture, from California’s Imperial Valley to Wyoming’s cattle herds, soaks up about three-quarters of its water, and produces 15 percent of the nation’s food. But 40 million people also depend on the river and its tributaries, and their numbers are rising rapidly.

The labyrinthine rules by which the seven Colorado states share the river’s water are rife with potential points of conflict. And while some states have made huge strides in conserving water — and even reducing the amount they consume — they have yet to chart a united path through shortages that could last years or even decades.

“There is no planning for a continuation of the drought we’ve had,” said one expert on the Colorado’s woes, who asked not to be identified to preserve his relationship with state officials. “There’s always been within the current planning an embedded hope that somehow, things would return to something more like normal.”

Unfortunately, the Colorado during most of Lake Mead’s 78-year history was not normal at all.

Studies now show that the 20th century was one of the three wettest of the last 13 centuries in the Colorado basin. On average, the Colorado’s flow over that period was actually 15 percent lower than in the 1900s. And most experts agree that the basin will get even drier: A brace of global-warming studies concludes that rising temperatures will reduce the Colorado’s average flow after 2050 by five to 35 percent, even if rainfall remains the same — and most of those studies predict that rains will diminish.

Already, the drought is upending many of the assumptions on which water barons relied when they tamed the Colorado in the 1900s.

The Colorado basin states tried in the 1920s to stave off future fights over water by splitting it, 50-50, between the upper-basin states of Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming and the lower-basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California.

In fact, the deal underestimated how much water the fast-growing lower-basin states would need. During most of the wet 20th century, however, the river usually produced more than enough water to offset any shortage.

Now, the gap between need and supply is becoming untenable.

Lake Mead currently stands about 1,106 feet above sea level, and is expected to drop 20 feet in 2014. A continued decline would introduce a new set of problems: At 1,075 feet, rationing begins; at 1,050 feet, a more drastic rationing regime kicks in, and the uppermost water intake for Las Vegas shuts down. At 1,025 feet, rationing grows more draconian; at 1,000 feet, a second Las Vegas intake runs dry.

Lake Powell is another story. There, a 100-foot drop would shut down generators that supply enough electricity to power 350,000 homes.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation’s 24-month forecasts of water levels at Powell and Mead do not contemplate such steep declines. But neither did they foresee the current drought.

“We can’t depend on history to project the future anymore,” Carly Jerla, a geological hydrologist and the reclamation bureau’s Colorado River expert, said in an interview. The drought could end tomorrow, she said — or it could drag on for seven more years.

That raises questions that the states are just beginning to sort out.

The river’s upper-basin states are worried that they might have to curb their consumption to meet their obligations downstream. But the thorniest problems are in the lower basin, where a thicket of political and legal deals has left Arizona holding the bag should the Colorado River continue to diminish.

In the 1960s, California’s legislators demanded first dibs on lower-basin water as a condition of supporting federal legislation to build the Central Arizona Project, a vast web of canals irrigating that state’s farms and cities. Should rationing begin in 2015, Arizona would sacrifice a comparatively small fraction of its Colorado River allotment, while California’s supply would remain intact.

Painful as that would be, though, it could get worse: Should Mead continue to fall, Arizona would lose more than half of its Colorado River water before California lost so much as a drop.

That would have a cascading effect. The Central Arizona Project would lose revenue it gets from selling water, which would raise the price of water to remaining customers, leading farmers to return to pumping groundwater for irrigation — exactly what the Central Arizona Project was supposed to prevent.

“By going back to the pumps, you’ll have made the decision that agriculture will no longer be an industry in central Arizona,” David Modeer, the project’s general manager, said in an interview.

Even Californians doubt Arizona would stand for that, but no successor to the 1960s agreement is in place. And California has a vital interest in holding on to its full allotment of water. The Southern California region using Colorado water is expected to add six million people to the existing 19 million in the next 45 years, and its other water source — the Sierra Nevada to the north — is suffering the same drought and climate problems as the Colorado basin.

“The basic blueprint of our plan calls for a reliable foundation that we then build upon, and that reliable foundation is the Colorado River and Northern California water,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, the general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “To the extent we lose one of those supplies, I don’t know that there is enough technology and new supplies to replace them.”

There may be ways to live with a permanently drier Colorado, but none of them are easy. Finding more water is possible — San Diego is already building a desalination plant on the Pacific shore — but there are too few sources to make a serious dent in a shortage.

That leaves conservation, a tack the lower-basin states already are pursuing. Arizona farmers reduce runoff, for example, by using laser technology to ensure that their fields are table flat. The state consumes essentially as much water today as in 1955, even as its population has grown nearly twelvefold.

Working to reduce water consumption by 20 percent per person from 2010 to 2020, Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District is recycling sewage effluent, giving away high-efficiency water nozzles and subsidizing items like artificial turf and zero-water urinals.

Southern Nevada’s water-saving measures are in some ways most impressive of all: Virtually all water used indoors, from home dishwashers to the toilets and bathtubs used by the 40 million tourists who visit Las Vegas each year, is treated and returned to Lake Mead. Officials here boast that everyone could take a 20-minute shower every day without increasing the city’s water consumption by a drop.

Moreover, an intensive conservation program slashed the region’s water consumption from 2002 to 2012, even as the area added 400,000 residents.

Even after those measures, federal officials say, much greater conservation is possible. Local officials say they have little choice.

“The era of big water transfers is either over, or it’s rapidly coming to an end,” said Mr. Entsminger, the southern Nevada water official. “It sure looks like in the 21st century, we’re all going to have to use less water.”

FRACKNATION co-director exposed by anti-fracking lobby group

Phelim McAleer, co-director of pro-fracking film, FrackNation published an article of what, in his view, constitute the ten biggest lies about fracking. Not one to mince his words, McAleer, drawing on his personal experience of fracking during the production of FrackNation pointed at those opposed to fracking as liars.

His viewpoint was quickly endorsed by some, including local Opinionista Ivo Vegter, who had the following to say on Twitter about McAleer’s article:

Vegter McAleer alliance

Treasure Karoo Action Group has responded to McAleer’s article and by default to Mr Vegter’s assertion that the article contains ‘substantive points that the TKAG can’t answer‘. We assert that McAleer himself is either a poorly informed filmmaker, who may have followed an industry-created script or a liar. We assert too that any person, having sufficient knowledge of shale gas mining to write and debate on the topic, who aligns themselves with McAleer’s article is either misinformed, or also a liar. We assert finally, that the TEN BIG FAT LIES published by McAleer have been answered.
In closing, we share a Tweet by McAleer on December 6 2013.

McAleer Mandela Joke





Click on the link below to read McAleer’s lies and TKAG’s response.