Sunday, February 9, 2014

View of Fracking in Cape Town

Citing American successes in the energy industry while downplaying their overt ecological steel-capped bootprint on the planet, South African politicians seem to be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of fracking taking place across VAST areas of South Africa. However, is the American model appropriate for South Africa? For your understanding, I have teleported fracking pads, and placed them to scale in the middle of Cape Town. Please, read on.

Last week, the minister of mineral affairs, Susan Shabangu, anounced her decision to "move ahead decisively, but responsibly with the exploration of shale gas" ( Fracking and drilling is now the 2nd biggest contributor to global warming in the US ( Fracking is not a "bridge fuel" but a bog-standard hydrocarbon gas mixture. With the venting and combustion of an estimated 400tcf (thats 450 TRILLION cubic foot) of gas reserves, this is nothing but irresponsible emmissions in the face of global warming.

There are countless reasons why fracking should not go ahead, which I have present below under two headings: confirmed/substantiated; and potential links.
Confirmed / Substantiated claims and direct links to fracking.

  • Fracking and drilling causes earthquakes (,
  • Fracking is linked to contamination of water supplies (, With this interactive map of fraccidents created by
  • Initial frac drilling is linked to release of endocrine disruptors (
  • Fracking releases more greenhouse gases than coal powered plants (
  • Fracking and drilling is the number two contributor to global warming in the US (
  • Fracking has caused a giant sinkhole (
  • Fracking fluids contain highly toxic chemicals that are linked to cancer, organ damage, nervous system disorders and birth defects (
  • Toxic fracking gases cause air pollution (
  • This report shows that regions where fracking takes place is linked to:
    • more social disorder arrests 
    • more cases of sexually transmitted infections
    • increased heavy vehicle traffic and heavy vehicle accidents that
      • have significant economic impacts
      • cause traffic and impact on lifestyles
      • increase response time of emergency vehicles
      • cause damage to roads and infrastructure with associated economic costs

Potential Links

  • Tourettes-like symptoms of 12 scholars possibly linked to fracking rigs in school yard (

But what I as a botanist and conservationist am primarily worried about, it is the desecration of vast areas of landscape through the installation an extensive network of roads, pipelines, fracking pads, and wastewater dams. In the words of an anonymous poster flying over Boulder: "The mountains over Colorado looked like a circuit board with veins interconnecting to blocks "pads". They are butchering the foot hills to the Rockies". This is not the USA with low post-glacial biodiversity. This is not Dakota with over 8000 fracking wells since six years ago, where over 1000 REPORTED accidental spills have taken place in 2011 alone! This is South Africa, land of biodiversity, home to the smallest floristic kingdom in the world, the Cape Floristic Kingdom, home to over 9000 species of which 70% occur nowhere else on earth. Compromising South Africa's biodiversity and lifestyle for something that Shabangu says "could be a game changer to South Africa's energy market" makes no sense.
Permain Basin oilfield, from Texas Oil: Landscape of an Industry. CLUI photo, Center for Land Use Interpretation

Juan Velasco produced this map of Dakota, in which he superimposed every well and its pipeline onto a map. As scary as that map is, as a South African, it is difficult understand and relate to the density of drilling pads. I therefore took the layout of the fracking pads, and superimposed them onto the SW Cape.

Position of well pads and wells from North Dakota superimposed onto the Cape

As you can see, the region from Cape Town to Montagu is barely recognisable. And this is just a small chunk of the extent of the total fracking within Dakota.

But fracking doesn't just affect the rural environment. It has knock on effects to cities too, with an impact on farming, and endocrine disruptors finding their way into livestock, the city food supply will be affect too. I therefore moved the grid so that a portion of it (still to scale) lay over Cape Town, and plotted each pixel within the area.

Pink dots represent Dakotan fracking pads superimposed on Cape Town

Finally, I took a view from Rhodes Memorial, found pictures of fracking pads using google images, and tried to position each well over its position, scaling it to approximately match its visual size at the distance from the photographer. The result gives a fair estimate of what you would see looking across a fracked Cape Flats. Three fracking pads would comfortably fit into Rondebosch Common in the middle of the photograph. Note that this shows only about 90 of the 250 rigs that would be in the line of site on a clear day with flat topography till the Hottentot Holland mountains, some 50km distant.

What if fracking in Dakota was done in Cape Town?

And in case you can't see them well-enough, at light they light up like a christmas tree.
Fracking flares
A fracking rig at night


Hypothetical fracking in the Cape Flats at pseudonightime

In the face of increasing evidence about the health implications of fracking, social cost of a fracking boom, and the economic cost of increased truck traffic, it seems like the government and Susan Shabangu are overly zealous in their pursuit of cheap energy. Cheaper energy and the promise of some jobs (mainly foreign) just doesn't cut it as a good enough reason to destroy the fresh air and sanctity of the Karoo and other areas of South Africa.

Alternative energy is already cheaper than coal and nuclear power in Germany, where they generate 25% of their energy from renewable sources (source: Yet South Africa has far more incoming solar radiation.
South Africa's immense solar potential

Additionally, there are several groups actively pursuing LENR (Low Energy Nuclear Reaction) technology. Last week Andre Rossi, the developer of one form of LENR sold his "intellectual property and licencing rights" and to an American company: Industrial Heat LLC. Should they develop the technology rapidly and responsibly, it has every chance of sounding the death nell for a carbon based economy.

So we need to act hard, and we need to act soon to stop fracking exploration from beginning. Learn from Dakota: within less than seven years, it went from virtual darkness to city-like brightness due largely to the fracking boom.
"That's not a city; and those lights weren't there six years ago"

And if you still think that fracking is an acceptable "intermediary", watch this.

Its time to make a stand! Renew your vow to boycott Shell today until they pull out of fracking in South Africa. 
Contact me on with ideas on what can be done.
Twitter: @TNBloganist


  1. What I liked about the article was the construction of the fracking landscape, as many people cannot picture that at all, that was great. Unfortunately there was more about this article I did not like... especially all the claims not backed by any evidence or primary information sources (we learnt about this stuff in highschool). An example is the referral to kids developing tourettes apparently from fracking wells in their school yard (Where? Who? How did this happen?). You do not give any reference where you can investigate this incident, and whether it has even being scientifically proven that fracking chemicals can cause tourettes. When you refer to sources of information, they are again, not primary sources (online news articles are not primary sources of information). For a source for one of your diagrams, it goes to a Greenpeace site. Again, I can't find any information on where I can find the primary source of the data or information used on the site. This is bad writing, you need to back claims with primary information sources. I hope this criticism helps you to write a more substantiated post in the future.

    1. Thanks Pia,
      Great to get feedback. I shall amend the unsubstantiated claims and try to get to the primary sources.

  2. WOW impressive and lost of work. I agree with Dave its good to see what it could look like

  3. If South Africa really need gas so desperately, be a good neigbour to Mozambique who has an abudance of fracked gas, and buy from them !!! We need to support our neighbouring countries to keep AFRICA a good place !!! We can buy from them, ESKOM can use the gas to produce energy ( at most expensive prices - due to the use of diesel to produce ) and the pro-frackers can pay still more for their electricity, while we the " green lunatics " as they call the anti-frackers will support renewable energy such as solar and wind.