At approximately 400,000 square kilometres, South Africa’s ancient semi-desert region the Karoo is its largest ecosystem, covering 40 per cent of the country’s landmass. Despite a fierce environment and scarce water supplies, it is home to thousands of plant species and a high diversity of animal life, including rare endemic species. But a fracking storm threatens to erupt.
South Africa remains heavily reliant on coal for electricity. Rolling blackouts have become commonplace as the National Grid struggles to cope. The government believes shale gas is the answer to the energy crisis. Because, if the US Energy Information Administration is to be believed, the Karoo lies on top of a massive 13.7 trillion cubic metre reserve of shale gas. The promise of cheap energy and jobs could be potential vote winners in elections scheduled for next year.
The anti-fracking movement is picking up steam and demonstrations continue across the Karoo. The Facebook page of the Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG) has over 8,000 members.
‘People here are very, very concerned. They have a unique relationship with the land and depend upon it for their survival,’ says Jeanie le Roux, Director of Operations at TKAG.
Groundwater serves as a lifeline to these communities. ‘If this becomes contaminated due to fracking, there would be huge implications for agriculture and tourism. We have no infrastructure in place to support the shale gas industry. All the construction and trucks would create large amounts of dust and have a terrible impact on the local ecology and the sheep farming industry.’
Despite forming less than three years ago, TKAG has enjoyed significant success fighting the government and those who have expressed an interest in exploiting the reserves. In 2011 the group secured a moratorium on fracking, only for the government – with one eye on elections – to lift it a year later.
When Shell launched a media campaign to convince the public of the benefits of fracking, the group reported it to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for its misleading adverts and media statements. Shell was found guilty on four counts and ordered to withdraw the campaign.
The group will now proceed with a legal campaign to prevent fracking in South Africa. ‘This is a very unfair fight. We’re a small non-profit organization and we have to take on the government and transnational corporations with a lot of funds, power and experience. However, as Margaret Mead [the American cultural anthropologist] said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”’