AGANG takes the lead in the fracking debate


Economics and Environmental Affairs – April 29 2014



“One of the greatest challenges facing political leaders is the choice between unrestricted development at any cost, and sustainable development that truly looks past short term benefit,” this according to TKAG ceo Jonathan Deal, in a radio interview yesterday.

Deal went on to say that the 3-year debate that had been conducted in South African media had done little to settle the facts from a scientific viewpoint, and he pointed to the inept manner in which the South African government had approached the entire question of shale gas mining as the underlying reason for the present state of affairs.

“Our government has done a shocking job of investigating this technology – which is not something that can be put into a geographical box – as in the Karoo – or attached to the timeline of an election – as the ANC promised to do. As an organisation with a solid grounding in the facts of shale gas mining, underpinned by personal and detailed inspection of fracking in the United States, we are much encouraged by the bold leadership of Agang in taking a firm stance against fracking under the current circumstances.”

“TKAG has walked a fairly lonely road in public opposition to fracking (despite the existence of various stakeholders who are preparing to oppose the issuing of licences) and it is significant to us that Agang has taken note of the research and global opposition – from ordinary communities – to arrive at a position that so unequivocally supports our view.”

“For once, it appears that the ordinary people in the street are being considered over the interests of big business and political contacts.”

“I believe that were it up to Agang, the process of public consultation over fracking, long promised, but never delivered by the ANC would have been properly planned and underway. The fact that President Zuma on TV, literally promised that South Africans will have jobs and economic benefits from fracking shows that the ANC have made up their minds without consulting the public – just like in the Etoll debacle.”


Jonathan Deal                                                                                             Jeanie Le Roux

CEO: Treasure the Karoo Action Group                                                         Director – operations

Landline: 023 358 9903                                                                                072-959-1818



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.

Fruit of the Poisoned Tree

A critical view on some of the issues surrounding shale gas in South Africa


First written for and published in DAILY MAVERICK February 14 2014 

A dilemma of extraordinary proportions confronts world leaders as they wrestle with ‘the fraternal twins[1] of peril and opportunity typically the choice between economic growth and sustainable progress. This article intends to make a case for cautious investigation (critical thought)– a science-based analysis of the actual experiences that must ultimately inform policy – it is not a blanket statement that proponents of shale gas mining are wrong or that the converse applies.

Spanning cultures and continents, shale gas is typified by a commonality of benefit and risk. Energy, jobs, revenue, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions are four key areas that arrest the attention of any government. Stacked against the elephant in the room – the risk of environmental, and ultimately economic damage – these considerations project shale gas into a ranking as the most widely debated[2] fossil fuel in more than two hundred years. Four primary areas define the broad environment in which we approach a discussion on shale gas: community, environment, development and sustainability. Interdependent and universal, each is of itself and in relation to its counterparts, undeniably central to the survival of humanity.

It follows logically that a review of shale gas mining commences with acknowledgement of the dynamics driving its development.  Barely ten years ago shale gas was unknown in the realm of many governments and in the minds of a majority of people – speculation over Peak Oil and the end of the fossil fuel age was endemic, and Oil & Gas companies were turning to ever more expensive and risky sources of carbon – colloquially labeled extreme energy.

Economics, climate change, science, politics and corporate goals

Author and expert on natural resource issues, Michael T. Klare[3] puts it thus: “The pursuit of untapped oil and mineral reserves in remote and hazardous locations, is part of a larger, more significant phenomenon: a concerted drive by governments and resource firms to gain control over whatever remains of the world’s resource base.”

If economics informs government opinion, the touchstone of the ‘prosperity’ argument is development, with the measure of GDP naturally pegged as the definitive gauge of the health and wealth of a people. Economists predominantly calculate growth projections on what has been, and remarkably – even in the face of the global resource debate – still produce reports that refuse to even acknowledge the environmental and social costs of specific developments. Despite the advent of environmental economics based theory and supporting documents penned from within the economist community, modern economics in practice appear to have had little effect in modifying the GDP[4]-based clarion call of ‘upward and onward.’ A 2009 report from Boston University, states: “GDP is dangerously inadequate as a measure of quality of life,” yet within the context of shale gas in South Africa it is largely the anticipated contribution of shale gas mining to GDP that has elected officials already revising GNP, jobs and economic growth forecasts. Vast numbers (R80-R200 billion) and substantial percentages 3.3%-9.6% of GDP abound. Unsurprisingly the government appears to accept, apparently at face value, the predictions of economists paid by Oil & Gas multinationals. Meagre attention seems to have been expended on the base model applied to develop such numbers, and divergent opinions generated by well-published economists are greeted with silence.

The notion that exponential global growth, fueled by traditional energy sources will meet the needs of humanity is ingrained and commonly accepted to the extent that it is claimed by some that the world is not running out of resources.

A malady of pessimism, as undesirable as such may be, should not be countered with unrestrained optimism. Gore[5] writes “Our natural and healthy preference for optimism about the future is difficult to reconcile with the gnawing concerns expressed by many that all is not well, and that left to its own devices the future may be unfolding in ways that threaten some of the human values we most cherish.”

Climate change

One of the key arguments promoted by environmentalists is anthropogenic climate change[6]. Whether or not human activities cause or affect climate change is probably the most central issue in the debate, which itself, (climate change) is underwritten by hundreds of thousands of articles and studies. The climate change debate is relevant to shale mining inasmuch as it is claimed by big Oil & Gas that a change from coal to shale gas will deliver a great reduction in carbon emissions. Avoiding a discussion around the merits of shutting down a global coal industry and the naïve assumption that unburned and accessible coal will be left in the ground, and referencing again the claim of cleaner burning shale gas lowering overall emissions, consider this report by the Guardian quoting BP chief economist, Christof Ruehl – “Shale gas – previously inaccessible because the exploitation of these resources requires technology only recently perfected (sic)– will account for a rising proportion of the growth in energy in the years to 2035, but its use will not cause a decline in greenhouse gases.” Prefacing the report is the astonishing strapline; “BP study predicts greenhouse emissions will rise by almost a third in 20 years – Energy firm’s analysis finds switch to other fuels like shale gas will do little to cut carbon emissions.”

Professor Emeritus of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Ian Rutherford Plimer credits the greatest carbon emissions as emanating from Australian brush fires and active volcanoes. Denouncing efforts to address anthropogenic causes of global warming – and in fact the holistic concept, Plimer gives the idea that there is little that we can do except sit back and enjoy the ride.  ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson is ostensibly of the same mind about the outcome in his statement, “What good does it do to save the planet if humanity suffers?”  Tillerson is reported to have saidWe can’t pull up, we’re going in, brace for impact” – an analogy of the language that would be used by the captain of an airliner in a terminal dive. Making Tillerson’s statement even more baffling are reports that ExxonMobil as an organisation has invested heavily in climate change denial. Asserting that nine out of ten ‘top[7]’ climate change deniers are or alleged to be linked to ExxonMobil, the report reviews the efforts of big industry, including the Koch Brothers to cement climate change denial.

Pointing to 938 papers cited in an article by Carbon Brief [8], the text reveals that 186 of the articles were written by only ten men, and foremost among them was Dr Sherwood B Idso, who personally authored 67 of the articles. Idso is the president of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, an ExxonMobil funded think tank. The second most prolific was Dr Patrick J Michaels, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, who receives roughly 40% of his funding from the oil industry.

Whatever the ultimate conclusion of the climate change discussion, two facts are undeniable – one – climate change is a convenient issue for both sides of the shale gas debate to use to their advantage; and two – big industry can throw tens of millions of dollars at it as long as it suits them to do so.


Granting the last two points, (economics and climate change) are grounded in science, it is necessary to examine the term ‘science’ holistically, and with specific reference to shale gas in South Africa. An assessment of the shale gas debate in South African media will establish that both sides make use of ‘scientific’ reports that suit their viewpoint. Plato, in Republic wrote, “When the mind’s eye rests on objects illuminated by truth and reality, it understands and comprehends them, and functions intelligently; but when it turns to the twilight world of change and decay, it can only form opinions.” The nexus with shale gas in South Africa is evident: the world’s scientific community cannot reach consensus on the claims raised by both sides of the shale gas argument. A Green Paper on the importance of “scientific evidence-based policy-making” published by Janez Potočnik; Commissioner for Science and Research at the United Nations describes a resilient method for approaching policy decisions, especially on large scale. Potočnik writes “… ’Bridging the gap’ between science and policy is not a technical issue. It is a political, economic, social and cultural issue. It is about an encounter between politicians and scientists, often with the necessary help of citizens themselves.” The United States Environmental Protection Agency affords scientific policy appropriate gravity in its own Scientific Integrity Policy affirming, “Science is the backbone of the EPA’s decision-making.” The EPA also describes ‘science’ as an expansive term that references the full spectrum of scientific endeavors – basic science, applied science, engineering, technology, economics, social sciences, and statistics.

I don’t believe that South Africans can, at this juncture be shown that the Government policy on shale gas has been scientifically informed to the extent that a decision on a technology of the scope and scale of shale gas ought to be. Writing on the claims of climate change believers, a local journalist pronounces “This is simply bad science, conducted by scientists whose careers are on the line, paid for by investors with a stake in the outcome and politicians who want the moral cloak of playing saviour in a crisis. Clinging to received (sic) dogma, by repeating hoary arguments unilluminated by new facts demonstrates an abdication of critical thought that is not conducive to credible science.” On the basis that this statement applies equally to climate change deniers and their allies in governments – I agree wholeheartedly.

Politics and corporate goals

Gore[9] in his book The Future writes “The idea of making truly meaningful collective decisions in democracy … is naïve, even silly, according to those who have long since placed their faith in the future not in human hands, but in the invisible hand of the marketplace.” He continues “By tolerating the routine use of wealth to distort, degrade, and corrupt the process of democracy, we are depriving ourselves of the opportunity to use the ‘last best hope’ to find a sustainable path for humanity through the most disruptive and chaotic changes civilization has ever confronted.” Of the US Congress, he says, “its members are still ‘representatives’ but the vast majority of them now represent the people and corporations who donate money, not the people who vote in their congressional districts.”

According to the SA government, shale gas extraction can be done safely and economically, will bring great riches and prosperity to South Africans, and concurrently solve our energy and carbon emission challenges. I don’t believe that our leaders have properly discharged their duty to the citizens of this country in arriving at their public decision on shale gas – and I submit that in election year it is time for you to think critically about whether to pick more fruit off the poisoned tree – or stop watering it.

[1]   Gore, Al.  The Future, 1st ed., Random House Publishing Group, New York. (2013).

[2] Having regard for the relatively brief period in which shale gas has been debated when compared to other energy sources

[3]  Klare, Michael T.  The Race for What’s Left, 1st ed., Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, LLC New York, New York 10010 (2012), 996. (Pages 12, 13)

[4] Stiglitz, J. E., Sen, A. & Fitoussi, J.-P. Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress Vol. 12 (Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, 2009). Also Costanza, R., Hart, M., Posner, S. & Talberth, J. Beyond GDP: The Need for New Measures of Progress (Boston University, 2009).

[5] Ibid

[7] A label ascribed, within the context of the report, to the most prolific writers supporting climate change skepticism.

[9] Ibid

Another natural gas explosion in the United States

WKYT - News - Headlines

Town evacuated after natural gas explosion in Adair County

Updated: Thu 7:50 AM, Feb 13, 2014
Adair County










Photo by Michael Clinkscales and Kate Davis

ADAIR COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) – A gas pipeline exploded in Adair County Thursday morning, creating a 60 foot crater.

The Adair County Judge Executive tells WKYT that a natural gas pipeline exploded around 2 a.m. in the Knifely Community, near the Taylor and Casey County lines.

The gas line runs from New York to the Gulf and is owned by Columbia Gulf Transmission.

The Judge Executive says several homes around the explosion site in the Knifely Community were evacuated.

Fire departments from Adair, Taylor and Casey County were called in to help get the fire under control.

Adair County Emergency Management Director Greg Thomas tells us that two homes were destroyed by the explosion and another was damaged.

Thomas says the gas line was in a hillside and it’s unclear what caused the explosion at this time.

Kentucky Emergency Management Director Buddy Rogers says that two people were hospitalized for burns from the explosion, but that both victims have been released from the hospital.

He also warned that because crews planned to bleed the gas line and release more gas, those in the immediate area may hear more explosions, but that it would be controlled.

Witnesses say the explosion and fire could been seen as far away as Liberty, Kentucky.

Red Cross is on the way to help those who have been evacuated from their homes.

WKYT – News – Headlines News Weather Sports Video Live 19°F Town evacuated after natural gas explosion in Adair County Updated: Thu 7:50 AM, Feb 13, 2014 Home / News / Headlines List / Article Photo by Michael Clinkscales and Kate Davis Photo by Michael Clinkscales and Kate Davis ADAIR COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) – A gas pipeline exploded in Adair County Thursday morning, creating a 60 foot crater. The Adair County Judge Executive tells WKYT that a natural gas pipeline exploded around 2 a.m. in the Knifely Community, near the Taylor and Casey County lines. The gas line runs from New York to the Gulf and is owned by Columbia Gulf Transmission. The Judge Executive says several homes around the explosion site in the Knifely Community were evacuated. Fire departments from Adair, Taylor and Casey County were called in to help get the fire under control. Adair County Emergency Management Director Greg Thomas tells us that two homes were destroyed by the explosion and another was damaged. Thomas says the gas line was in a hillside and it’s unclear what caused the explosion at this time. Kentucky Emergency Management Director Buddy Rogers says that two people were hospitalized for burns from the explosion, but that both victims have been released from the hospital. He also warned that because crews planned to bleed the gas line and release more gas, those in the immediate area may hear more explosions, but that it would be controlled. Witnesses say the explosion and fire could been seen as far away as Liberty, Kentucky. Red Cross is on the way to help those who have been evacuated from their homes.

Caveat for Mining Bosses – you can’t run or hide from the law in South Africa

Kudos is due to the Department of Environmental Affairs and to the state for the successful prosecution of a company director for environmental damage. This landmark ruling may curtail the frequency of headlines such as this one in the SUNDAY TIMES November 3, 2013:


Director gets jail for land damage

February 10 2014 at 07:45am 
By Londiwe Buthelezi

IOL pic feb10 gavel light

Johannesburg – A landmark judgment sentencing a company director to a prison term for breaking environmental laws has raised the pressure on South African corporates to comply with the law.

A court in Limpopo imposed a prison sentence on Matome Maponya, the managing director of Blue Platinum Ventures, on January 31 for causing environmental degradation. It was the first time in South African history such a ruling was made.

Maponya was sentenced to five years, suspended on condition he rehabilitate the damage, estimated at a cost of R6.8 million, within three months.

Blue Platinum Ventures had been mining clay outside the village of Batlhabine, Limpopo, since 2007, which resulted in environmental degradation.

It was the first time a company director was given a jail term for such a violation, even though legislation has provided for personal liability of directors for breaking environmental laws since 1998.

It has opened the gate for more such rulings. “It is sending a strong message that no one will remain untouched… We are working hard with the law enforcement agencies to ensure that we have more cases going this route in future,” Albi Modise, the spokesman for the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), said.

While the department did not want to be seen as upsetting job creation efforts, it wanted private companies to respect the country’s environmental laws like any other laws.

Maponya was not given the option of a fine. In the past, directors found guilty in their personal capacities have only paid fines. “The imprisonment without an option of a fine is likely to change the way companies look at environmental issues,” said Terry Winstanley, a director and national head of the environmental practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr.

“[Decision makers] will probably give them more weight. Personal liability could arise not just for directors but anyone who has some sort of control over the environmental impacts of a business.”

As a result of this ruling, companies were likely to make greater allocations of financial and human resources to environmental management and compliance, she said.

Shareholder activist Theo Botha said listed companies would note that they needed to attend to environmental matters and not shift the blame.

“There are a lot of cases like the acid water in the West Rand where big companies sold to smaller companies and then there was no one to blame. This will change that. It will create heightened awareness, especially in mining.” Such a ruling was long overdue, he said.

A not-for-profit organisation from Batlhabine, near Tzaneen, brought the illegal mining to the attention of the Department of Mineral Resources in 2010. It did not act, and the organisation laid criminal charges against the six directors of Blue Platinum Ventures. They appeared in the Naphuno Regional Court for the first time in August last year.

People living around Nkomati Anthracite’s operations also had a sweet victory last year when the company, which is 60 percent owned by JSE-listed Sentula Mining, pleaded guilty to transgressing the National Environmental Management Act. It was fined R1 million and agreed to pay R4m to the DEA’s Environmental Management Inspectorate.

“This is something that is welcomed and long overdue specifically within the mining industry,” said Bobby Peek, the director of environmental justice NGO groundWork. “However, there is a legacy staring us in the face, as mining activities that destroy the environment and people’s well-being often go ‘unnoticed’ by the authorities. Mines often operate without the required licences, and acid mine drainage and coal dust continue to be ignored by authorities.

“We need to find ways of stricter enforcement of the law on all mining sectors.” – Business Report

Is Africa Being Sold For a Handful of Glass Beads?

An article by Thompson Reuters Foundation January 27, points to the favour granted to international corporations over the rights of farmers and indigenous peoples who rely on sustainable agriculture for a living.

The views expressed dovetail remarkably with an article penned almost a year ago by Jonathan Deal. That article can be read here

Corporations trump citizens in struggle for natural resources in Africa – report

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation – Mon, 27 Jan 2014 03:37 PM

cor-gov hum-rig cli-for
Enlarge image
Garlic farmer Molly Nikelo in the Karoo, South Africa October 11, 2013. Some residents fear that proposed fracking will destabilise agriculture. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Land laws which fail to give citizens rights over natural resources give corporations the upper hand and fuel poverty and environmental damage in sub-Saharan Africa, according to new research by the World Resources Institute.

The study found that African governments overwhelmingly put more weight on laws that govern rights to resources than rights to land, enriching mining and extractive companies and leaving the vast majority of African landowners powerless to economically benefit from their land.

“The rights to surface resources are the most important, as these are the ones that are readily available to the population without the need to engage expensive exploration and mining technology,” said Peter Veit of the Washington-based World Resource Institute.

“Most natural resource laws only allow communities to use certain trees or certain amounts of water, for domestic and subsistence purposes only, but they don’t allow them to take advantage of the resources that are on or below their land to actually generate a meaningful livelihood,” Veit said.

Africa is a major oil and gas producer and has some of the earth’s largest subterranean stocks of gold, diamonds, metal ores as well as other high-value resources above ground. However, the continent is home to 25 of the top 30 poorest countries in the world, according to the World Bank.

Mahogany sells for around $2,000 per cubic metre in current market conditions, ivory sells for $1,000 per pound in the illegal market whilst trophy hunting can bring in as much as $350,000 for some species such as the recent auction of a permit to hunt a black rhino.

In northern Liberia, the government gave one company in 2011 the rights to search for and exploit iron ore minerals in an area that has an authorised community forest, owned by local communities under the Community Forest Management Agreement with the government.

“If the mining company finds mineral resources, they will have the right to access the mineral resources even if it destroys the forest resources in the process,” a development expert working in Liberia, who wished to remain anonymous, told Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from Monrovia.

Similarly, in Ghana, the farming communities of Prestea, Himan, and Bondaye have been in conflict with a Canadian mining company for more than a decade. They say the company has taken large amounts of their agricultural land and provided little compensation for their losses.

Veit said that petroleum and minerals are crucial to national development, so there is justification for having that under the control of the state. But leaving citizens with no rights to the resources above or beneath their land can create a lose-lose situation.

“In parts of Ghana, farmers have no rights to naturally occurring trees on their farm. They’re afraid the government will grant harvesting rights to mining companies or timber operators without benefitting them, so they cut down, burn or uproot the trees and grow crops on the land, rather than preserving them,” said Veit.

He said there were ongoing efforts by environmental NGOs to help communities through the arduous process of securing more rights to resources on the land, but in the long term land rights should automatically include rights to natural resources.

“Granting communities more rights to natural resources when they have land rights means they can negotiate directly with the companies and the state can benefit through a taxing of those operations, whether they are high value timber species, trophy hunting or mining operations,” Veit said.


SA Shale Gas – a gamble on a house of cards

The latest instalment in a running online debate with @davidjohnson. My response, penned January 02 follows underneath.

Why gamble at all?

January 1, 2014

This is the fifth of five articles in a public debate with Jonathan Deal. The exchange began with my piece We can’t treasure only the Karoo, followed by Jonathan’s David Johnson gets his answer on fracking, my reply A response to Jonathan Deal and Jonathan’s most recent article Are the pro-frackers in SA ready to roll the dice?.

Jonathan has described the scene at a hypothetical casino, with environmentalist and developer players gambling on our planet’s future. There is one gamble which TKAG could help remove from this debate. If this exchange starts that process, it could be a very good thing indeed.

Jonathan referred to developers who “claim a loftier cause”. But when a company suggests it is part of some noble project, surely only the most naïve of people would think the claim anything but a marketing ploy. The game played by the oil and gas sector is financial; they seek loftier profits, not loftier causes. The rival players are other oil and gas companies, their gambles are where to invest to generate the greatest returns. We all know this. To the extent environmentalists feature in this imaginary game they are not competitors, but potential impediments to them.

The game of environmentalists, on the other hand, is an entirely different one. They seek to limit or prevent environmental harm, but they do not necessarily agree on how to do so. Many environmentalists are horrified by nuclear power, yet well respected environmental writers and activists like George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Stephen Tindale support it. On both the nuclear and fracking questions the environmental movement does not possess a unified voice, there are rival players. No environmental interest group can honestly claim to represent “environmentalists” as a whole, on these topics.

Anti-fracking lobby groups, like TKAG, are therefore gambling that their view is the right one and that meeting our energy needs with shale gas would cause greater environmental harm than alternative methods. They are gambling because they lack a scientific analysis supporting their case.

Jonathan refers to 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”. I doubt he would trust an assessment prepared by the government or industry, with good reason, so why doesn’t TKAG commission one?

If a diverse panel, not weighted in favour of any particular interest group, agreed terms of reference for experts to undertake a scientific study of our energy options, their full array of lifetime impacts (at home and abroad) and conclude with a hierarchy of the least environmentally damaging actions, there would be the foundation of a far more powerful and rational environmental argument. Maybe the report would support a total ban on fracking, maybe not, we would have to wait to read it.

If this report supported TKAG’s view their case would be strengthened, they would be gambling no longer and many of my criticisms of TKAG’s approach would be wrong. Alternatively, if the report found different conclusions, TKAG would either have to change its focus or admit to having only localised concerns which did not benefit environmentalism on a greater scale.

Commissioning such a project would be time consuming and expensive but would provide a far more persuasive environmental case than is possible at present. If it leads to a stronger environmental argument it doesn’t matter if either my or Jonathan’s views are wrong, the prize of better serving the environment would surely be worth any personal embarrassment. Why gamble on the correct environmental approach? So, Jonathan, I’ll throw the dice if you will. How about we try it?

Jonathan’s response

Gamble (noun) lose or risk losing something, endanger something, risky action

As it turns out, the theme of gambling, with reference to the debate on shale gas mining in South Africa, dovetails perfectly with the approach of our government to this vast and complex issue. And it is appropriate that on behalf of TKAG and those opposed to shale gas mining in South Africa, I embrace this opportunity to play open cards.

As a point of departure, it will be useful to understand the other players and their positions. Minister Shabangu, who by virtue of South African taxpayer’s money has a free seat at the table, wields a special dispensation to break the rules at any time. Arriving late for the game, she grabbed a handful of cards out of the pack, and to date refuses to show her hand. Every now and then, she tosses out a card to show that she is still in the game, and proclaims loudly to the table that she has the money and authority to see this game to the bitter end. Of course, the consequences of a loss for her are of no real consequence, because the taxpayer will pick up the bill.

Shell, who started the game, play with a flamboyant style. Cleverly, they seek to bluff the other players by appearing to have the interests of the game at heart. In truth, their sleeve is well stacked with hidden aces – friends in high places[1] all around the world. Naïve as it may seem, the other players believe Shell when they claim to be in the game for the good of South Africa. If we win this game, they promise, the 9 million South Africans who use dung and candles for energy will all have electricity. The electricity will be cheaper, and between 300 000 and 700 000 unemployed South Africans will have permanent jobs. All you need to do is kick those who would deny all of these benefits that our hand will deliver, out of the game. Trust us, we have honest faces.

Uncle Jacob, just like Uncle Sam, is also in the game. He plays a powerful hand because he can start and stop the game at will. But right now he is enchanted with the shining promises of Shell. Shell has a pot of money that appears to have no bottom, and uncle Jacob, needs money to make good on the promises he made to all the people who paid for his place at the table. Uncle Jacob has many assistants to carry his cards to and from the table – and he brooks no dissent – if you don’t carry the right card, you’re out – and he will replace you with someone who does things his way.

Big business, the Corporatocracy[2], is represented by people who will stand to gain much in the short term. They’ll sell trucks, earthmoving machines, tankers, tyres, diesel, wire, steel, glass, clothing and lots of other materiel. Their role in the game is to nudge Uncle Jacob and his card carriers. Every time it looks as if the spoilsport Enviroplayer has strengthened his hand, they call a private meeting away from the table where they can talk about jobs and money, energy and well, other stuff.

Enviroplayer is, of course out of his depth. He barely has the money for such a high-stakes game. Minister Shabangu, Shell, Uncle Jacob and the Corporatocrat all want him gone. But like a tick he clings to their soft, corpulent underbellies.

So, as for gambling, TKAG is an unwilling participant. The very word, gamble, implies that if the gambler wins, there is some reward. But for TKAG, there is no reward. No money. No riches. Just the knowledge that years of unfunded, unpaid work has been expended to protect something for unborn Africans.

Nobody, of course asked TKAG to take up the cudgels. The other environmentalists to whom David refers, whilst deploring the idea of fracking, may in fact receive much of their salary, car allowances, fancy office rents and Christmas bonuses, from some of the very Corporatocrats who want fracking to go ahead. Little wonder they are too scared to take a seat at the table.

TKAG, far from ‘gambling’ on emotion and supposition actually base their position on the research of scientists[3] who have taken no money from the Corporatocrat’s, and on the research[4]of credible government departments. TKAG has been to the US for 5 weeks, to meet these scientists in their homeland and taken time to observe and record the scope and scale of real fracking operations. TKAG’s stance is not based on supposition or emotion and is not a gamble.

One of Uncle Jacob’s senior card carriers, though, may well be part of the state-funded gamble. Minister Peter’s, at the time, head of Energy for South Africa, visited America[5] to investigate fracking. The Minister’s report-back subsequent to the remarkable 4-day journey, informed South African media that she had not ‘witnessed anything that turned her off the extraction process’. The arduous trip evidently so confused the Minister that she couldn’t remember which small town she had visited “on the coast”, but she did remember that the whole operation was run by a woman. So detailed was the Minister’s briefing to her staff that one of her sidekicks reported to the press that the town was Marcellus. Go figure. During the whirlwind tour to investigate fracking, Peters was the guest of the state government but also met industry representatives, including Shell and participated in the Group of Friends on Sustainable Energy for All discussion at the UN as well as attending the Bloomberg New Energy Finance 2013 Summit in New York City.

Now David, this is the story of how a senior Cabinet Minister who advises Uncle Jacob investigates fracking for South Africa. All this in 4 days and a fracking investigation too? Just who is gambling here?

With reference to a SEA for South Africa, we have long called for such a move. And it was in November in KZN that the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs announced the formation of just such a forum. TKAG was formally invited to participate in the SEA, which included international scientists. The unfortunate passing of Mr. Mandela resulted in the cancellation of the event, which we expect to be re-scheduled for early 2014. So in fact, TKAG has committed to being involved and playing a constructive role. Far from a gamble.

An overarching investigation of all of the elements of a SEA, as described in my last piece, would, according to the academics that have been approached by TKAG, cost between R7 and R10 million. Little more than 50% of the R16 million rand that has been allocated to the Eastern Cape government to prepare that province for fracking. In the absence of a national approach to this scientific debate, does that not constitute a gamble? And how is TKAG (as the poorest and weakest player at the table) expected to fix it?

Meanwhile, Shell, with the hundreds of millions of rands in their publicly touted budget, have commissioned and released two reports – one from Markinor, which proclaimed that 75% of South African’s were in favour of shale gas exploration (really?); and another – the infamous Econometrix report that talks of jobs and riches on an unimaginable scale. Interestingly, neither the companies nor Shell were prepared to reveal the background instructions, notes, findings and questions on which these reports were based. In contrast, and using donations from private people (R50 at time), Afriforum, Wilderness Foundation, and our own money, TKAG commissioned a R100 000 review of the Econometrix report by an expert South African team[6]. Moreover, TKAG stipulated to the team, at the outset that the report would be made publicly available, even if it weighed against our position.

Lastly, we have offered, and do so again now, to make available all of the correspondence, notes and instructions that passed between TKAG and the authors. To add scientific substance to an unfair and unscientific gamble, TKAG went so far as to submit the report for peer review. It was submitted to three respected scientists, one in SA and two in the US, and received favourable review from all three. The Econometrix document provides no such benchmarks. A gamble perhaps?

It is submitted to you that a reading of this report (which deals with the economics only) may provide an inkling of the effort to which we have gone, without formal standing, and on a literal shoestring compared to Shell and Uncle Jacob, to inject a measure of honest science into a very crooked deck.

In closing, I must refer to another player who joins and leaves the game randomly. This is the typical freelance journalist, who spotting a hot topic realises the value of joining. Let’s call him Opportunista. Reliant on publicity, he quickly hops aboard a national media platform. And so, conveniently being uninvolved in big business, government, tourism, farming or even environmentalism, he is able to altruistically dive into the game, ostensibly there to protect the interests of a passive, fickle and self-indulged public. Trumpeting his caveat of ‘trust no one’, he cautions his followers to eschew support for government, the oil companies or the environmentalists. Focus only on the gas bonanza, and a gas driven GDP surge that will solve the county’s energy, jobs and revenue problems, he urges. Opportunista can leave the game at any time, knowing that no one can point at him – he after all only highlighted the folly of not grabbing the bonanza – not how it should be accomplished. As for gambling, well he has nothing to lose and only fame to gain.

David, apart from one instance of being required, to choose between being obtuse or dishonest, I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to debate this issue with you. My eagerness to read your response is overshadowed only by the possibility of a live (and unprepared) debate.