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Stop Fracking in the Karoo February 16, 2011

Posted by Andreas in activism, Climate change, Environment, Fracking, Global warming, South Africa.

Large parts of South Africa’s beautiful, but water-poor and ecologically sensitive Karoo region are under threat of being devastated by mining operations to extract natural gas using a controversial technique called hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’.

During fracking millions of litres of water, sand and numerous chemicals most of which are toxic, carcinogic as well as teratogenic (they include benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene, ethylene glycol (antifreeze), diesel fuel, naphthalene (moth ball) compounds, boric acid, arsenic, poly nuclear organic hydrocarbons, only to name a few of 500-odd chemicals used), are pumped into boreholes at high pressure to release natural gas (called shale gas) trapped in layers of underground rock.

In the USA, where fracking has been used extensively, there have been hundreds of documented cases of this process resulting in:

– catastrophic drinking water pollution;

– air pollution;

– health concerns for humans and animals; and

– general environmental degradation.

Right now, Shell and other international and local companies are preparing to explore tens of thousands of square kilometres of land in South Africa for natural gas exploration by fracking. Most of the area under threat is already extremely water-stressed and can not afford any water to be either wasted or contaminated by the fracking process which, once in full production, may involve tens of thousands of boreholes and billions of litres of water.

There is a growing groundswell of opposition to the use of fracking in South Africa by a broad coalition of farmers, environmental organisations and ordinary citizens.

If you are concerned about the likely environmental and health impacts of natural gas exploitation in our country, please join us in adding your name to the following petition.

We, the undersigned:

Call on national, provincial and municipal government to institute a moratorium on all on-shore exploration and exploitation of natural gas in South Africa, especially any operations involving hydraulic fracturing, at least until comprehensive, independent, scientific assessments can guarantee that such exploration and exploitation activities will not lead to detrimental environmental or health effects and until independent and efficient measures are in place to monitor all shale gas exploration and exploitation.

Call on Royal Dutch Shell and other international and South African companies to refrain from endangering the environmental integrity of the Karoo and the health of its inhabitants by engaging in shale gas exploration and extraction using hydraulic fracturing technology.

Please sign the petition here and spread the word!

Find out more about fracking here:

Fractual – a South African website about fracking. Register on the site to receive a regular newsletter about the latest local and international developments.

Gasland – an Oscar-nominated documentary about fracking in the USA

Shell to take gas plan to Karoo communities

Fracking up the Karoo

Climate Benefits of Natural Gas May Be Overstated

Royal Dutch Shell Really Wants to Frack Up The Karoo

The great biofuel delusion February 2, 2011

Posted by Andreas in Climate change, Column, Environment, Global warming, rant, South Africa, Sustainable Living.

The great biofuel delusion

(This column was first published on 2010-11-24 at News24 here)

Have you ever thought about what you are going to put in your car’s tank when petrol becomes prohibitively expensive as the world’s oil supplies start to dry up? And have you ever worried about the fact that the greenhouse gasses emitted by the car you drive every day make a massive contribution to climate change?

“No worries,” you say. “We’ll just convert all of our cars to run on biofuels!”

Indeed, biodiesel and bioethanol are often portrayed as the green and sustainable answer to our transport woes in an oil-free future. But how viable and eco-friendly are such biofuels really?

A wide variety of plant materials, from maize and soyabeans to sugar cane and various grasses can be converted into biofuels. They can either be mixed with conventional diesel or petrol, or (with relatively minor modifications to the car) used in undiluted form to power a combustion engine. Their promise lies in the fact that the raw materials can be grown commercially like any other agricultural crop and that they should, in theory, be carbon neutral, absorbing as much CO2 during growth as they emit when burned as fuel.

Biofuels under scrutiny

Many countries have started to promote the use of biofuels as part of their commitment to reducing greenhouses gas (GHG) emissions and combating climate change. Member states of the EU, for instance, are legally required to derive 10% of their transport fuels from renewable sources that cut GHG emissions compared to fossil fuels by 2020. South Africa’s draft biofuel strategy calls for a mandatory 4.5% biofuel component in road transport fuel by 2013.

In recent years, however, biofuels have come under increasing scrutiny and overall prospects are not looking good. Since most biofuels are currently made from food crops including maize and vegetable oils, it is now widely acknowledged that they have contributed significantly to worldwide increases in food prices.

In countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, huge new palm oil plantations established specifically for biodiesel production have led to deforestation and the draining of peatlands, destroying valuable ecosystems and biodiversity and releasing large amounts of GHGs. Experiments with Jatropha, a promising non-food tree crop have experienced low-yields and crop failures in various countries.

Studies have shown that there simply isn’t enough arable land to quench our fuel-thirst on biofuels. If current US and EU biofuel targets were to be met domestically, almost all of the soy and maize grown in North America would have to be used and Europe would be left with only about a third of its farmland to grow food on.

Proponents argue that compared to fossil fuels, biofuels reduce GHG emission by as much as 50%, but these numbers don’t stand up to scrutiny. A 2007 study suggests that because of their extensive use of fertilisers that emit nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, European farmers who grow rapeseed for biodiesel production would do better if they planted trees and let regular diesel be used instead.

In the USA, maize-based bioethanol has been shown to require as much or more energy to produce than it releases when burnt and may actually cause GHG emissions to almost double instead of reducing them. Recent research suggests that the same is true for algae, another promising biofuel feedstock.

A dead end

Earlier this month, a study commissioned by the Institute for European Environmental Policy estimated that in order to meet the EU’s 2020 biofuel targets, an additional 4.1 to 6.9 million hectares of land will have to be cultivated – much of it in developing countries – resulting in 80 to 167% more GHG emissions than if the demand was met through fossil fuels.

The verdict? Biofuels are a dead end.

While they can provide a limited amount of truly green and sustainable transport fuel, biofuels will never be able to satisfy our current fossil fuel addiction. Electric vehicles powered by renewable solar and wind energy, once they are widely available, are a much better bet. But ultimately, I suspect, we’re asking the wrong question.

We shouldn’t be obsessed about how to replace our profligate consumption of one resource with that of another, but with how we can drastically reduce the use of such resources altogether and live more sustainably.