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South African Anti-Fracking Activist Calls for Global Alliance

Anti-fracking activist Jonathan Deal, winner of a 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize, discusses strategy to save the Karoo region of his native South Africa from gas drilling. Credit: Goldman Environmental Prize

Anti-fracking activist Jonathan Deal, winner of a 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize, discusses strategy to save the Karoo region of his native South Africa from gas drilling. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize

“We’ve got to stop doing this,” said Jonathan Deal, with a sense of urgency tinged with discomfort.

Deal could well have been talking about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the oil and gas drilling practice he has tirelessly fought to stop in his native South Africa.

But at this moment, he was talking about the energy-guzzling extravaganza in full swing all around us at a gathering in Washington, DC.  As we eyed hundreds of people in cocktail attire partaking of bounteous food and wine across a chandeliered room, I sensed Deal’s inner discord: this lavish event was in honor of him.

Deal had just been awarded a Goldman Environmental Prize for his successful grassroots effort to win a moratorium on fracking in South Africa.  And on this mid-April spring night at the Ronald Reagan Building near the National Mall, a magnificent reception followed a ceremony to honor and applaud Deal’s success, along with that of the five other remarkable 2013 prize winners.

While Deal accepted his award with humility and grace, and was deeply grateful for the spotlight it shined on his work, he was making an important point.  Unless we rein in our energy consumption, his fight will have been for naught. And it must start with each of us, here and now, addressing the discord between what we know and what we do.

An Uphill Battle

With no prior experience in grassroots organizing, Deal orchestrated a campaign against fracking in South Africa to protect the Karoo, a semi-desert region of the eastern Cape that he had come to know and love.  Famed for its beauty, the Karoo boasts the richest diversity of succulents on the planet, and is home to many unique species of lizards and tortoises, as well as the riverine rabbit, one of the most endangered mammals in all of Africa.

The region also supports a diverse and bountiful array of agricultural products, from wool and meat to fruits, olives, wine and honey.

The Karoo is also underlain by vast deposits of gas-bearing shale.  South Africa is estimated to have the fifth largest volume of shale gas in the world – some 7.3 percent of the global total – and most of that gas is in the Karoo.

In early 2011, Deal read of plans by the oil company Royal Dutch Shell to apply for exploratory permits to drill for natural gas in the Karoo.  The drilling would be done by fracking, which involves blasting water mixed with sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure so as to fracture the shale rock and release the oil and gas it holds. Some of the chemicals are known or suspected carcinogens.  Each fracking well consumes 1-8 million gallons of water.

Deal, who had written a book on the Karoo, took on the mantle of activist to save his beloved land from the onslaught of drilling rigs and tanker trucks, and the threats of water stress, well failures and toxic pollution.

Deal formed the Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG) and led a team of scientists, legal experts, and volunteers in preparing a report on the risks of fracking in the Karoo. TKAG delivered the report, which called for a moratorium on fracking, to President Jacob Zuma.  Deal also challenged Shell executives to debate the merits of fracking at public meetings and in the media.

Deal’s hard work and personal sacrifices – he poured his family’s savings into the campaign – paid off when, in April 2011, the South African government announced a nationwide moratorium on fracking.

But the moratorium lasted only 17 months: in September 2012, the government lifted it.  Still, Deal and TKAG had gotten South African officials to take the dangers of fracking more seriously, and studies are now under way to more carefully examine fracking’s risks to the Karoo environment.

Hands Across the Ocean

Ten days after the ceremony in Washington, DC, Deal was in Elmira, New York, sharing his experience in South Africa with community members concerned about the threats of fracking in their region.

“We’ve kept (the oil companies) at bay for two-and-a-half years,” Deal said, “and we’re going for three.”

He told the group assembled at Trinity Lutheran Church that three companies, including Shell, have applied to the government to drill on 230,000 square kilometers of land in South Africa.

We can’t beat this country by country, Deal said. There needs to be “a global alliance.”

Natural gas was once viewed as the “bridge fuel” to a renewable energy future—a lower-carbon energy source that could help the world transition from dirtier oil and coal to more climate-safe renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

But thanks to fracking’s ability to exploit vast reserves of once-inaccessible shale gas, natural gas has become, in the words of climate blogger Joe Romm, a “bridge to nowhere”: it will merely perpetuate fossil fuel dependence and lead the world into catastrophic climate change.

While in the United States, Deal worked to start building the alliances he feels are necessary to stop the global march of fracking. In addition to visiting communities across the country, he is strengthening ties with Americans Against Fracking, a coalition of some 270 disparate organizations, including 350.org, Breast Cancer ActionFood and Water Watch, and New Yorkers Against Fracking.

Meanwhile, back in his native South Africa, Deal’s own organization will get a significant boost from his Goldman recognition: Deal is giving his $150,000 in prize money to TKAG to strengthen the fight to save the Karoo.

Watch a short video, narrated by Robert Redford, of Jonathan Deal’s story and work by clicking here.

Sandra Postel is director of the Global Water Policy Project and Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society. She is co-creator of Change the Course, the national freshwater conservation and restoration campaign being piloted in the Colorado River Basin.

 

 

Comments

  1. Freeman
    South Africa
    May 27, 2013, 3:02 pm

    To George.
    To say that worse chemicals exist in out shampoos is a moot point.
    Yes our shampoos contain the same toxic crap but we do not eat drink it unlike our ground water and maybe we should be asking why our cosmetic products are also toxic too instead of using it as justification. Stepan and co, of NJ, makes the surfactants used in all our shampoos and also in fracking and also extracts cocaine to supply the global licit trade (illegally though as it is Schedule 1 in States and globally outlawed) but when you are part of the sick cabal (like Haliburtin, Monsanto, Dupont, Coca Cola etc..) that runs the show and poisons the rest of us you can do what you like I guess. I am studied in chemistry too and believe me that there is a correlation with the advent of modern chemistry and the huge increase in global cancer rates. It is not, as much as you’ve been paid to believe otherwise, coincidence. If you are so wise please show us a youtube video of you drinking the solution that Shell plans to pump into my groundwater. Please carry on drinking your water out of a tap saturated with BPA and the likes from industry and our homes or drink your acidic softdrinks stored in PET BPA containing bottles. Follow the money, the same conglomerates are profiting off the manufacture of those chemicals too but their spin doctors tell us that it too is safe while girls grow testes and boys grow boobs. Think for your self you fool.

    And BTW coca cola ‘bonaqua’ is not spring water but just RO filtered tapwater bottled in BPA saturated plastic. They, like Shell and George don’t care about your health, only their bottom line.

    South Africans are not going to take this lying down. Shell be warned. You will NOT frack our karoo. Over mine and many others DEAD BODIES. Take us seriously or not, you have been warned. Destruction of our aquifers is a declaration of war .

  2. Jay E. Simkin
    USA
    May 24, 2013, 8:46 pm

    The placing of a permanent ban on fracking in various places suggests intellectual blindness. A moratorium suggests a willingness to consider the evidence. The question as to groundwater contamination is a serious one. It seems, though, that additives used in fracking are a very, very small percentage of what is pumped down-hole, to fracture the shale. Does anyone know – and can state authoritatively – which additives are likely to be carcinogenic and how much of these additives would be used, as a percentage of total water pumped down-hole. It may be that the concentration of problematic chemicals is very low, so that any risk is negligible. It could also be, that problematic chemicals are used in huge amounts. My point: let’s get some facts on the table, and go where the facts point.

  3. Richard George
    United States
    May 21, 2013, 4:05 am
  4. Elisabelle Bourgue
    May 20, 2013, 4:10 pm

    Our website is accessible in 23 langages; with option translator directly on the website.
    Mr George is welcome in our website.

    http://nofrackingfrance.fr/scientifique/reponses-scientifiques
    http://nofrackingfrance.fr/scientifique

    Thank’s for Jonathan, Jeanie , Marylin and other team of Teasure the Karoo.

    Best regards,

    Elisabelle Bourgue.

  5. Jiri Malik, Frack Free World
    Czech Republic
    May 19, 2013, 5:22 pm

    To Mr. George. You have a very bad infos. Fracking liquids are partly toxic and cause cancer, sometimes with radioactivity!! (not possible cleaning). Per one fracking operation oilers use an average of 70 tons of chemistry. For industry using there are thousands fracking operations!!! Fracking in USA? It is (and will be dousen years) disaster. Sickness rate in fracking zones goes up. Drinking water is contaminated. All these arguments are scientifically tested and with peer rewiev!!
    NG comments too correctly. The fact is scary! Thank you for NG, for their fight for health of people and nature. Are you, Mr. George, from industry lobby? Open your eyes please.

  6. Ken Lys
    May 19, 2013, 10:20 am

    (continued by K.Lys):

    Put our minds at rest by disclosing those chemicals pumped downhole, explain why they all had to be used, convince me of their relatively benign nature in the quantities used, and lastly provide assurance that they won’t leach and cause contamination and disease.
    At this moment there is no undoing what was done. A tremendous amount of fracking has already occurred and on an immense scale across the USA. I know fracking will provide only temporary gains with gas and oil production and it certainly provided immense profits to a select few, like (Dick Chaney’s) Haliburton. I also know that federal laws were changed (prior to the wholesale fracking activities) that protect companies like (Dick Chaney’s) Halliburton from any legal action at a later time if leaching and contamination of aquifers or other water sources does occur.
    There unfortunately is no turning back. The gains in production will be temporary, the profits enjoyed by a select few; but what remains: the ‘forever’ possibility that those chemicals will leach and poison us or our children is now our burden and we have no recourse if it occurs.
    I have only one body. We all have but one earth. We are all rightfully concerned – and we damned well should be. We can no longer blindly act as if this planet will always forgive us.
    Richard, put my mind to rest. Provide information that you say you have on all those chemicals pumped downhole. Give me facts that prove my fears are unwarranted.

  7. Ken Lys
    May 19, 2013, 10:10 am

    Mr. Richard George,
    The prime controversy with fracking is the “proprietary” ingredients forced down-hole with the fracking fluid. You claim that these are no more harmful than chemicals found in hair products.
    Put our minds at rest by disclosing those chemicals pumped downhole, explain why they all had to be used, convince me of their relatively benign nature in the quantities used, and lastly provide assurance that they won’t leach and cause contamination and disease.
    At this moment there is no undoing what was done. A tremendous amount of fracking has already occurred and on an immense scale across the USA. I know fracking will provide only temporary gains with gas and oil production and it certainly provided immense profits to a select few, like (Dick Chaney’s) Haliburton. I also know that federal laws were changed (prior to the wholesale fracking activities) that protect companies like (Dick Chaney’s) Halliburton from any legal action at a later time if leaching and contamination of aquifers or other water sources does occur.
    There unfortunately is no turning back. The gains in production will be temporary, the profits enjoyed by a select few; but what remains: the ‘forever’ possibility that those chemicals will leach and poison us or our children is now our burden and we have no recourse if it occurs.
    I have only one body. We all have but one earth. We are all rightfully concerned – and we damned well should be. We can no longer blindly act as if this planet will always forgive us.
    Richard, put my mind to rest. Provide information that you say you have on all those chemicals pumped downhole. Give me facts that prove my fears are unwarranted.

  8. Ken Lys
    Alberta, Canada
    May 19, 2013, 9:04 am

    Mr. Richard George,
    The prime controversy with fracking is the “propietary” ingredients forced downhole with the fracking fluid. You claim that these are no more harmful than chemicals found in hair products.

  9. Jobs in South Africa
    Philippines
    May 18, 2013, 2:56 am

    Alliances is sound wonderful in South Africa. This would a great news to all business minded people in South Africa and it would increase their economy.
    Thanks for sharing.

    A webmaster of
    Jobs in South Africa

  10. Richard George
    United States
    May 17, 2013, 12:21 pm

    I am a former petroleum geologist and current groundwater remediation geologist. I know what chemicals are used in hydraulic fracturing. People use worse chemicals on their hair.

    Comment sections on articles do not allow for a reasonable debate of the detailed science. Especially with people who have no technical background and have already made up their minds.

    There is no science involved in this article. It simply a report on short sighted political activism. Unfortunately, for South Africans, this movement will prevent their potential future of abundant and inexpensive energy that might collectively raise that country’s economy. Millions of South Africans live and die in poverty every day and this false hero stymies the development of abundant natural resources that would help that country feed and educate its people.

    Jonathan Deal’s preemptive political veto of the use of hydraulic fracturing will severely limit this county’s future development. There is no discussion of benefit, just potential, possible, may be, could happen, harm. Your use of the precautionary principal would have all of us still living in the dark ages as we would have to stop all progress until all practices are showed to be absolutely safe.

    To sum it up, risk are very low, benefits are huge, bigotry of small vocal minority is rampant. Giving a cash award to Mr. Deal will not create the resources necessary to help South African’s it will do the opposite.

  11. Jiri Malik, Frack Free World
    Česká republika
    May 17, 2013, 6:25 am

    We support idea from South Africa :-) It is a great solution for global conflict (war against water) – fracking.

  12. Angelique Holt
    South Africa
    May 15, 2013, 4:57 pm

    Its is sad to read this article knowing that our minister has decided to go ahead and allow fracking in the Karoo.It is a water scarce region and most of its water comes from aquifers which will be contaminated by this.Also,its has been an organic farming area for lamb for hundreds of years.Ironically co ca-cola’s bon-aqua water comes from the Karoo as well.it would be better used for wind and solar power as it is scarcely populated .How can one cause such destruction for methane,which can be produced from bio-digestors for almost nothing?fracking is just child’s folly in my eyes as the benefits are so short term The destruction and permanent removal of water from the water table that come with this practice are being sorely overlooked and will result in more job losses in the future for South Africans.
    A country as sensitive as ours requires renewable,long-term energy goals,not the short sightedness of greedy politicians and energy companies.

  13. Jamesin-north
    Canada
    May 15, 2013, 12:20 pm

    Thanks to all involved in this alliance. You have another supporter in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

    Richard S. George, please keep your comments nice, sounds like somone is putting somthing in your cornflakes.

  14. JaylikeBird
    Olympia, WA
    May 14, 2013, 3:50 pm

    Richard S. George:
    “Fortunately, I do not have to prostitute the truth like you pimps.”

    It is unfortunate that the truth (about fracking, in this case) needs to be prostituted to make it in the world. I think you have a problem with the truth, not it’s method of dissemination.

  15. Jill Trotter
    Australia
    May 14, 2013, 7:34 am

    obviously Richard is a mining troll. global alliance sounds great

  16. Fouchini Maartens
    South Africa
    May 14, 2013, 7:25 am

    Mr. George, Are you perhaps jealous of Jonathan Deal because he won $150,000 dollars at the Goldman awards for his contribution towards good environmental practices and saving our Karoo and our earth. Were you ever nominated for a scientific award ? I don’t think so ! I think you are a disgrace for the USA if you are an example of their scientists.

  17. Fouchini Maartens
    South Africa
    May 14, 2013, 7:14 am

    Mr, Richard S. George, if you are really a scientist, then why don’t you put your knowledge where your mouth is ? I DARE you to submit an article to this publication to disproof to everybody who reads it that fracking is good for earth. The mere fact that you have to use derogatory and insulting language proofs to me that you perhaps suffer from a mentally deficient inferiority complex ! Thumbs up Jonathan and Sandra.

  18. Richard S. George
    United States
    May 13, 2013, 9:06 pm

    You are all fools. Jonathan Deal is simply the newest of your self-created Don Quixote tilting at your newest boogie-man, hydraulic fracturing of shale rock . Please drop your pretenses. Your self-righteous, we know better than you, regardless of the science or truth attitude, is why i dropped my subscription to your sad tabloid rag of a magazine. I had enjoyed it since 1973 when I was a kid. I still enjoyed the photography but could no longer tolerate your hypocritical articles pretending to save us from your self-loathing and made up causes. I am a trained scientist and know how to think. Fortunately, I do not have to prostitute the truth like you pimps.

    • Sandra Postel
      May 13, 2013, 11:27 pm

      Mr. George, in the interest of constructive conversation, perhaps you could tell us what in the piece is not in sync with the science. The safety of fracking is still in question, which is why places like New York State, South Africa, France and elsewhere have placed temporary or permanent bans on it. Once groundwater is contaminated, it is very difficult to de-contaminate, and some of the chemicals used in fracking fluids are known or suspected carcinogens. The precautionary principle would seem wise to apply here.