Friday, January 25, 2013

The High Cost Of Cheap Gas-Fracking in the Karoo

The producer working in the Swartberg Mountains, on the far southern edge of the Karoo Desert.
I am originally from western Colorado where Natural Gas development really took off about thirteen years ago. At the moment there are more drilling rigs working in Garfield county than there are in the whole of the Arabian peninsula. This unrestrained development in one of the most picturesque places in America has brought some jobs, a lot of money for gas industries, and become a focul point in the dispute around the technology’s safety and it’s side effects.

Now I live in South Africa, and today the gas companies are lining up to break into the shales of the Karoo desert here in search of a large gas resource. The size of the deposit locked into the deep shale layers of this magical desert could be 500 trillion cubic meters, the fifth largest on the planet. The government hopes this development will enrich the country and give it s source of cheap energy that is clean and abundant.

Up until September last year there was a block on all development, but the moratorium has been lifted, and Shell Oil is waiting for their exploration permit to be issued. Once these licenses are issued a large-scale drilling and fracking project will begin, so the window of opportunity to educate communities who will be affected by this development is closing fast.

Starry nights near Touws River in the Karoo Desert.  Venus in the upper middle of the image shines most brightly.  The Karoo is home to the largest optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere.

But South Africa is water scarce, with only 70% access to cleandrinking water and there is little enforcement for existing laws governing pollution. It is home to the most polluted beachfront in the world and a mining pollution legacy that affects more than 7 million people’s health. If the past is anything to go by, natural gas production will largely be regulated here by the very industries that are carrying it out and the benefits will flow to the rich and powerful while local communities deal with the cost.

A rare rainstorm in the Karoo fills the dry gullies with rushing water.  Water is the key to the abundant ecosystems in this semi-desert area, and ranchers worry that Natural Gas Development may endanger this scarce resource.

Here in South Africa most people are not aware of this large scale gas development on the horizon and what it means to them. This project’s goal is to change that. The newest science tells us that natural gas production is actually dirtier than coal, creates ground level ozone and noxious pollution that is a serious danger -especially to our children, and does not necessarily bring economic benefits to the communities where it happens. In this film, these long-term costs of this technology are balanced against it’s perceived and championed benefits, showing clear examples of a possible fracking future.

From Colorado to the Karoo town of Carnarvon, we share the lessons of my home with the people of my adopted country. Following intersecting needs and value chains we examine how the SA government is invested in Shell, we follow where the money, pollution and water will flow, what it costs to clean up a well and the health impacts of little known but terribly dangerous chemicals called endocrine disruptors.

Through it all we will bring you on Safari through the rich treasures of the Karoo Desert and share one last look at a landscape that may change forever. This is The High Cost of Cheap Gas.

The Square Kilometer Array near Carnarvon in the Karoo Desert will be the largest telescope on the planet, with around 3000 radio telescopes like these working in unison.  The success of the project could be derailed by the dust, communications and development brought by large-scale natural gas extraction.