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Green Opinions

South African Frackers

by Michelle Simon 17 Feb 2012
South African Frackers

Image: South Africa's Potential Frackers; Sources: PASA (2010), USGS (2000) & ARI

In South Africa, the main fracking contender is Sasol. Sasol commenced as an apartheid state fossil-fuel coal to liquid company due to international sanctions. Multinational beneficiaries to the apartheid system were also oil giants from Europe and the US taking advantage of South Africa's oppressive system giving them cheap land, cheap labour, cheap services and disempowered black communities.

The apartheid government sought to establish its own fuel production. As a parastatal, Sasol was highly subsidised and a beneficiary in the exploitative and oppression policies from labour laws, to group areas, etc. Sasol was allowed to establish a whole town called Sasolburg where it extracted its cheap black labour force. A black township was created, Zamdela, to house the labourers and conveniently placed downwind of Sasol. Zamdela has been a site of socio-political and environmental racism due to the intentional location of black communities on the fence-line or downwind of toxic industry. During apartheid a black life was regarded as cheap, so the human health impact was never a concern for the state or any beneficiary of the apartheid system. Sasol went on to become a formidable national fuel producer and mining company, again establishing other plants upwind of black townships such as eMbalenhle.

Sasol grew over time to become a multinational corporation in its own right securing its business tentacles in countries across the globe, almost thirty to date, namely, China, India, US, thus making Sasol the world's leader in coal-to-liquid energy (CTL). CTL has a high carbon footprint emitting large volumes of CO2 and other toxic gases such as Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S).

Carbon-High, Profit-High, People-Environment - Low

Sasol's profits have grown exponentially with its diversification from coal-fuel, coal-mining, to gas energy and chemical manufacturing, making the Multi-National Corporation (MNC) profit at the expense of the environment and poor communities. This trend has not changed and while it is noted that Sasol as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility and Investment (CSR-I) embarks on several community upliftment, conservation and environmental efforts and does disclose some information on its levels of toxins; as a large business entity it gets away with much due to lax and slow law enforcement, monitoring and compliance. Lest we forget and catch particulate matter of green-washing in our eyes and let the myopia of green-washing mask the true nature of the mega-billion-carbon-giant. Some of the environmental health impacts, related to Sasol's CTL production, are elevated benzene levels (a known carcinogen causing leukemia and cancers in blood-organs) and a range of respiratory illnesses and diseases from asthma to allergies and includes the release of neurotoxic H2S. The latter of which was merely cast off by industry for years as a bad odour and nothing more but due to grassroots investigations revealing scientific data to the contrary, industry deflection has been exposed. The impacts of each emitted pollutant is expansive physiologically and biologically, from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to Particulate matter (PM) and of course the carbon emissions which permanently alter our climate systems.

If CTL technology hasn't wreaked enough havoc on the planet, now Sasol's head-fast fracking plans in the Karoo and elsewhere will add to the company's abysmal environmental track record. As cited in a Friends of the Earth publication (2011), "according to Sasol's own figures, for the year ended June 2011, Sasol's direct carbon dioxide emissions for its operations in South Africa amounted to 52.9 million tons (11% of South African greenhouse gas emissions); or 61.7 million tons including indirect emissions (from electricity use). Sasol's global greenhouse gas emissions increased from 75 million tons (CO2 equivalent) in 2010 to 75.3 million tons in 2011." While Sasol in South Africa temporarily withdrew its fracking exploration in the Karoo late last year due to public discontent and government's extended moratorium, officially ending this February, fracking in South Africa may become a reality as in other parts of the globe.

Sasol fellow partners in the greenfields fracking proposal are Royal Dutch Shell, multinationals Statoil and Chesapeake Energy, Falcon Oil & Gas, and Bundu Oil & Gas.

Royal Dutch Shell

Being one of the top five global oil giants, Royal Dutch Shell's reputation of environmental and human rights atrocities precede it, operating in 145 countries. Shell in South Africa owns about 50% of the joint Shell & BP (British Petroleum) oil refinery, known as SAPREF. SAPREF was strategically placed next to poor black communities, as the standard trend goes with environmental racism, and has been a key environmental hotspot. From explosions, to leaks to daily pollutant emissions the communities in South Africa bear the brunt of the toxic load. SAPREF was responsible for the largest petrol contamination in SA, more than 1.5 million litres leaked in a groundwater and drainage channel rich basin.

Now the Shell Group wants to start fracking! It seems ludicrous when they can't even get their CTL refining process down to low-emission standards as they do in their home countries in Europe. And they don't intent on replacing the CTL with gas energy, both are billion rand industries and will continue for as long as oil reserves permit and the new un-extracted gas reserves lie in wait for them to profit off. It seems the traditional track record of using the third world as a dumping ground for the cheapest, dirtiest technologies with high monetary returns has not changed.

Falcon Oil & Gas

Canadian Falcon Oil & Gas, is a transnational global energy company, holding an interest in approximately 7.5 million acres (30 351.42 square kilometres) Technical Cooperation Permit (TCP) in the southwest Karoo Basin.

Bundu Oil & Gas

Bundu is in fact a subsidiary of the Australian company, Challenger Energy Ltd previously known as Sunset Energy Ltd. Bundu was actually was actually the first to put in the exploration permit. "Bundu holds 100% of exploration permits and applications covering approximately 3,200 square kilometres of highly prospective acreage in South Africa. This comprises the Thelma Project, an oil and gas exploration project located in the northeast edge of the northern Karroo Basin of South Africa and the Cranmere project located in the Eastern Cape Province, north of the port city of Port Elizabeth (Challenger Energy, 2012)."


Norway is the home country of Statoil, one of the world's largest oil and gas companies. In 2004 Statoil started the Mossel Bay Gas to Liquid (GTL) project with a 50% split with the SA state owned PetroSA, but later pulled out of the joint venture. The fracking endeavours saw Statoil formed a consortium with Sasol and Chesapeake Energy were granted prospecting permits for the Drakensberg region (proclaimed World Heritage Site), Free State and Eastern Cape provinces.

Chesapeake Energy

The US natural gas giant Chesapeake Energy came under the spotlight last year when water contamination due to fracking wells in Branford County, Pennsylvania.

Fracking Craze

The US and Canada are the fracking leaders but the intrusive-extraction is growing in the west and the entire northern hemisphere, and trickling south, exploration and plans by the oil and mining colonialists are spreading like a plague in spite of heightened climate change and overall environmental facts and information about dirty technologies. Yet the reality of the crisis we are facing on the planet has not dissuaded the polluting barons. They have instead come up with new projects year after year, and it's growing tenfold. China, like South Africa, has not as yet implemented fracking but it seems they will go down this route. Within the US there is much opposition from local towns and states calling for moratoriums on current proposals or bans. The global movement to ban fracking is growing, from small Karoo towns to Taranaki (New Zealand) to Quebec (Canada). Whilst fracking continues in Europe, France issued an outright ban on fracking last year. Citizen pressure has achieved much in the anti-fracking movement and forced governments to think independently of the usual comfy state-big business relationship that is based on economic-psychology tactics by the latter party. Governments often don't even see the scientific facts and review independent unclouded industrial information until communities at their own expense start gathering accurate data on case studies forcing government to review alternate information.

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