Karoo vs Fracking and Uranium

Don't Frack with Our Karoo.

By Julienne du Toit

Pictures by Chris Marais

The week of 16 October 2017 began with news that the Department of Mineral Resources’ fracking regulations had been declared invalid in the Grahamstown High Court.

Graaff-Reinet attorney, Derek Light.

Graaff-Reinet attorney, Derek Light.

Attorney Derek Light represented Agri Eastern Cape and farmers unions from more than a dozen districts, including Cradock, Graaff-Reinet and Jansenville.

These applicants argued that the so-called fracking regulations (officially known as the Regulations for Petroleum Exploration and Production) passed by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) in 2015 were invalid, because in 2013, the Mining Minister’s ability to rule on environmental matters was removed.

Judge Gerald Bloem agreed and ordered the DMR to pay the legal costs of the applicants.

As a result of the fracking regulations being struck down, the DMR cannot issue rights to prospect for shale gas using hydraulic fracturing.

Shortly after the ruling was announced, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane reiterated the ANC Government’s commitment to fracking and said his department may appeal the ruling.

If Judge Bloem’s judgment stands, however, it falls to the Department of Environmental Affairs to draft the regulations, which could cause more long delays. Shale gas exploration concessions covering more than 120 000 square kilometres of the Karoo were first granted in 2010. During the public consultation process, Karoo farmers and townspeople rose in fierce opposition to this mining technique.

Two days after this ruling, more good news. Australian company Peninsula Energy, which was providing financial backing to three proposed opencast uranium mines between Beaufort West and Aberdeen, announced it was pulling out of South Africa and will instead concentrate on its operations in Wyoming, USA.

Uranium mining was a more immediate threat to the Karoo

Uranium mining was a more immediate threat to the Karoo

Geologist and science adviser to the Southern African Community Faith Institute (SAFCEI) Dr Stefan Cramer first broke the news of the impending uranium mining threat on Karoospace in January 2016. He noted at the time that it was a real and present danger to the Karoo, far more so than fracking.

“Unlike the fracking threat, the uranium industry has [already] finalised its exploration phase,” he wrote. He also warned that the planned opencast uranium mining would cause even more damage to farms than fracking would.

Commercial and emerging farmers opposing the project were worried about radioactive uranium dust from the opencast mines accumulating in sheep wool and mohair, one of South Africa’s major export products.

They were also concerned about toxic effluent escaping from waste dams during floods as well as uranium dust in the lungs of people and livestock and causing cancer and other health problems.

This does not mean the threat of uranium mining completely disappears since a new buyer could appear and Peninsula has said it will try to help its South African partners acquire licences to establish the mines. But this does not seem a likely scenario in the short or even the long term.

The contamination of rivers by uranium was a major concern.

The contamination of rivers by uranium was a major concern.

Dr Stefan Cramer said the cost of uranium production in the Karoo would be very high, and it was not a particularly good resource compared to uranium deposits elsewhere in the world.

“Peninsula hopes to sell its assets. But how do you sell a house you yourself do not want to live in?

Chriszanne Janse van Rensburg of the Support Centre for Land Change said farmworkers, farm dwellers and emerging farmers had “contributed greatly to the struggle” against both the shale gas and the uranium mining projects. “Victory is sweet.”

Cramer added: “Now the people of the Karoo can concentratrate on what they can do best: extensive agriculture, enthralling agritourism and abundant renewable energies. The path to a better future is now open.”

* This article was altered slightly to include a quote from the Support Centre for Land Change, previously the Southern Cape Land Committee.

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3 Responses to Karoo vs Fracking and Uranium

  1. Anna Gevers October 24, 2017 at 6:45 am #

    We in Europe are devastated with the news of fracking being considered in the Karoo.

    South Africa is a beautiful country, the Karoo is a precious part of the country, and the inhabitants of the Karoo want this area to remain as it is, Unspoiled by fracking.

    Please fight for the Karoo, a incredible and rich area, and also so important economically.
    Thousands of workers have a livelihood on the farms and in the towns.

    Stop this lunacy!

  2. Elvis October 25, 2017 at 8:48 am #

    Do you have any idea what the unemployment rate is in Karoo towns?
    In the poorer township areas it can be as high as 80%!!! The majority are living off social grants.

    You and the other like-minded people on this forum like to think that tourism and farming are the only industries in the region that will solve the poverty problem, but if that were true the poverty would have disappeared a long time ago already!
    You speak only from a privileged position of someone who does not have to worry where food comes from everyday, who does not see the conditions in the townships, who can come here on holidays with Euros in your pocket…

    Meanwhile a GERMAN ACTIVIST named Stefan Cramer comes into the area turning everyone’s (the privileged side of town) heads upside down with many claims of impacts far beyond what they will be, opposing any kind of mining development. And yet you all rely on the products of mining everyday while driving your car, living in your house, using electricity, commenting on your computer…

    Spare us the indignity of your one-sided opinions please.

    • Julienne du Toit October 25, 2017 at 1:07 pm #

      In fact, because my husband and I live in an Eastern Karoo town and travel extensively in the region, we are only too aware of the poverty. (And because we are freelance journalists, alas, no Euros in the pockets!)

      I think what concerns most people is the fact that all industry (tourism, farming, and EVERYTHING else) depends on water. And this is something that both fracking and uranium mining put at risk.

      It would be interesting to know where in this region you live, and whether your town depends wholly or partially on groundwater. You could check on the risks to the various towns here:
      http://karoospace.co.za/fracking-groundwater-threats-to-karoo-towns/.

      It is also interesting to look at the Strategic Environmental Assessment findings on Shale Gas Development in the Karoo, a study recently completed by some of the top scientists in the country. Here is the summary, which you may have read: http://seasgd.csir.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Summary-for-Policy-Makers_2nd-Edition_05June2017.pdf

      On Page 50 it gives an overview of the current jobs in the shale gas concession area (within the Shell, Falcon and Bundu concessions).
      Current employment in agriculture: 38 000. Tourism: between 10 000 and 16 000 jobs. Shale gas mining might at most deliver 900 local jobs, if there is a ‘Big Gas’ find.

      Of course, 900 jobs, even if they are menial and unskilled and for a limited time are better than nothing, but if those jobs endanger other industries that provide more livelihoods as well as food security, then that is a problem in my opinion.

      Although the current jobs in renewable energy (also within the same shale gas concession area) are in the region of 115 to 270, this is a field that can expand sustainably with little threat to water and other existing industries like agriculture and tourism.

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