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Institute for Groundwater Studies (IGS): Fracking in the News

North to South

Prof Gerrit van Tonder speaks about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracking in the Karoo.



Pro-fracking Prof does U-turn

Cape Times, 1 June 2012
Melanie Gosling, Environment Writer

ONE of SA’s leading geohydrologists supported fracking for gas in the Karoo and said it posed no problem for underground water.

Now Professor Gerrit van Tonder, of the University of the Free State, has warned that his new research shows that there is a high risk that fracking in the Karoo could lead to one of the biggest water pollution problems in the world.

“This is serious stuff. There will be trouble, and Shell and the other companies involved must take note,” Van Tonder said yesterday.

In July last year, Van Tonder, of the university’s Groundwater Institute, wrote in the Landbouweekblad that Karoo farmers need not fear water pollution from fracking. He was quoted expressing the same opinion in the Farmer’s Weekly.

But that was before he and his doctoral student, Fanie de Lange, had completed their latest research – still to be published.

“Now we are 100 percent certain that there will be trouble,” Van Tonder said. Essentially they have established “one hundred percent” that the underground water in the Karoo basin flows upwards. They have also established that because of the Karoo’s unique geology, there are vast numbers of natural 'pathways' along which the water can flow upwards. And with the upward flow, the water will carry the toxic cocktail of fracking chemicals up to the freshwater underground aquifers nearer the surface.

This is the water that most of the Karoo towns and farmers depend on.

One of these natural pathways is created by underground dolerite dykes. “One of the biggest problems is that the Karoo has many dolerite dykes underground. The region is unique because of that, other regions don’t have this. Now these dolerite dykes create 'pathways' around which the water moves upwards. All the hot springs in the Karoo are associated with these dykes. About 80 percent of the holes that Soekor drilled in the Karoo in the past hit dolerite dykes.”

But as well as these natural pathways, there will also be thousands of new artificial pathways created by each fracking borehole. Once they come to the end of their 20-year lifespan, each borehole will provide a conduit to transport the cocktail of hazardous chemicals used in the fracking process, at very deep levels underground, upwards. This contaminated water could take several years to reach the freshwater aquifers – or it could take only days. “Once polluted, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to clean up the pollution. Given enough time, the effects that fracking chemicals will have on the environment will be detrimental,” Van Tonder said.

He said this had already happened with fracking in Pennsylvania, in the Marcellus shales, where the underground water also flowed upwards.

It is not known how many fracking boreholes there will be in the Karoo, but Van Tonder said if only half of the Karoo basin were fracked, there would be around 178 000 boreholes, drilled over a period of about 10 years. If more than half of the Karoo was fracked, this could increase to as many as 400 000 boreholes.

Van Tonder said he strongly recommended that before any licences were handed out by the government to allow fracking, all companies must disclose what kind of fracking chemicals they would use and in what volumes. “There is the added problem that these chemicals are used at great depth, where there is high pressure and high temperature. These factors will cause the chemicals to change and create other chemicals – but we don’t know what they will change into because the companies do not disclose what chemicals they are using,” Van Tonder said.

His recommendation was that “under no circumstances must companies be allowed to include hazardous chemicals into the fracking fluid cocktail”, but use other 'green' options. However, he said these were apparently uneconomical, so no companies would use them.

Several chemicals include those that are known to cause cancer, such as benzene, which is a human carcinogen in water at levels greater than five parts per billion.

Although fracking companies point out that chemicals make up only around 0.5 percent to 2 percent of the total volume of water used, experts say because many millions of litres of water are used, the amount of chemicals is large. For example in the US, a four-million gallon (15 million litre) operation could use 80 to 330 tons of chemicals.

The Department of Mineral Resources has commissioned a specialist report on fracking from a government-appointed task team, which has been completed. The Cape Times was unable to establish if the team were aware of this new research, as the spokesperson was not available.

http://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/pro-fracking-prof-does-u-turn-1.1309893



Fracking 'could leave water poisoned'

Durban - A senior South African groundwater expert has warned that large-scale gas fracking could have “devastating” pollution impacts on the country’s priceless pool of clean underground drinking water. Presenting the results of water-flow modelling experiments at a national groundwater conference in Durban on Tuesday, Professor Gerrit van Tonder said it could take less than two months for contaminated “fracking fluids” and other pollution to contaminate boreholes, or just a matter of days to reach the surface in parts of the Karoo.

Click here for the rest of the story.



Wanna Frack? Pressure Rises in South Africa’s Debate over Natural Gas Exploration

Far beneath the surface of the Karoo lies a potential solution to its economic problems and a source of much interest for the energy companies circling overhead. It is believed that there are large reserves of natural gas trapped within the shale, which could be extracted through a process called ‘hydraulic fracturing’, more commonly known as fracking. “Moderately optimistic” figures from the government's Department of Mineral Resources estimate reserves of 485 trillion cubic feet, and even if just 30 trillion cubic feet were extracted, the potential windfall could be one trillion rand ($115 billion).

But unfortunately it is not all that easy. The process is extremely controversial and some believe that fracking would spell disaster for fragile ecosystems and livelihoods in the Karoo. Click here for the rest of the story.



Gasboringen in de Karoo : De prinses, de oliemaatschappij en het gas

Vrij Nederland, 13 Oktober 2012 (Only in Dutch)

Shell mag naar gas boren in de Zuid-Afrikaanse Karoo. Tegen de plannen is veel verzet, ook van prinses Irene.

Kliek hier om die res van die storie te lees..



Skalie-waarskuwings dalk nie so vergesog

Landbouweekblad Aktueel, 12 Oktober 2012 (Only in Afrikaans)

Na maandelange waarskuwings deur kenners dat hidrobreking in die Karoo grondwater erg kan besoedel, is pas bewys dat dit nie leë woorde is nie. Wat hy naby Merweville en Aberdeen gesien en aangetref het, het hom koue rillings gegee, het prof Gerrit van Tonder van die Universiteit van die Vrystaat gesê.

Kliek hier om die res van die storie te lees..



Soekor boreholes still exhale gas

Cape Times, 12 October 2012

Prof Gerrit van Tonder and farmers from the Merweville district in the Karoo struck a match over water flowing out of one of Soekor's old boreholes, and flames danced over the water.

Click here to read the rest of the story..



Gaan breking die Karoo maak of breek?

Rooi Rose, September 2012 (Only in Afrikaans)

Dr Danie Vermeulen verduidelik wat hidrobreking behels. Prof Gerrit van Tonder verskaf redes waarom hy teen hidrobreking gekant is en Jeanie le Roux, omgewingsbestuurder, verduidelik wat hidrobreking aan die ekostelsel van die Karoo kan doen.

Kliek hier om die res van die storie te lees..



Australiërs in eie hidrobrekingstryd

Landbouweekblad, 3 Augustus 2012 (Only in Afrikaans)

Dit is nie net Suid-Afrikaners wat bekommerd is oor skade wat hidrobreking kan aanrig nie. In Australië is 'n soortgelyke emosionele debat aan die gang. Groot ooreenkomste bestaan tussen die Groot Artesiese-kom in Australië en die Karookom in Suid-Afrika. Die enigste werklike verskil is dat die kom in Australië 'n sandsteenlaag bevat wat 'n baie goeie waterdraer uitmaak. In die Karookom is nie so 'n sandsteenlaag nie, maar Ecca-skalie.

Kliek hier om die res van die storie te lees..



Hidrobreking kan grondwater besoedel

Landbouweekblad, 22 Junie 2012 (Only in Afrikaans)

Chemiese hidrobrekingvloeistowwe, wat onder 'n druk van 700 bar op dieptes van 2 000 m onder die Karookom ingepers gaan word om metaangas te ontgin wat in die skalieformasies voorkom, hou wel 'n gevaar vir vlak grondwaterbronne in. Dit is met feitelike data en 'n numeriese grondwatermodel bewys.

Kliek hier om die res van die storie te lees..



Loop lig vir hidrobreking

Volksblad, 14 Junie 2012 (Only in Afrikaans)

TWEE wetenskaplikes van die Instituut vir Grondwaterstudies aan die Universiteit van die Vrystaat (UV) volstaan by hul jongste studie oor die skadelike gevolge wat hidrobreking (fracking) vir skaliegas in die Karoo sal hê.

Prof Gerrit van Tonder, ’n bekende geohidroloog, en Fanie de Lange, ’n doktorale student, het bevind die proses van hidrobreking sal grootskeepse waterbesoedeling in die Karoo tot gevolg hê as die regering hidrobreking goedkeur.

Kliek hier om die res van die storie te lees..



Hydraulic Fracturing: Adding to the debate

The Water Wheel, May/June 2012

A recently completed study solicited by the Water Research Commission (WRC) looks at what we know about hydraulic fracturing, and what we should know if this is allowed to go ahead in South Africa.

Click here to read the rest of the story..



Fracking a ‘massive pollution problem’

Cape Times, Friday, 1 June 2012

One of SA’s leading geohydrologists supported fracking for gas in the Karoo and said it posed no problem for underground water.

Now Professor Gerrit van Tonder, of the University of the Free State, has warned that his new research shows that there is a high risk that fracking in the Karoo could lead to one of the biggest water pollution problems in the world.

“This is serious stuff. There will be trouble, and Shell and the other companies involved must take note,” Van Tonder said yesterday. There would be around 178 000 boreholes, drilled over a period of about 10 years. If more than half of the Karoo was fracked, this could increase to as many as 400 000 boreholes.

Click here to read the rest of the story..



Confessions of a fracking defector

Daily Maverick, 15 June 2012

Government has been making approving noises about fracking recently, possibly in preparation for the lifting of the existing moratorium. Enter Professor Gerrit van Tonder of the University of the Free State. Until two months ago, he was saying fracking would not contaminate the Karoo’s groundwater. Now he is suddenly adamant it will.

Click here to read the rest of the story.



Fracking wins hearts, minds and wallets in Wyoming’s Karoo

Donwald Presley, Business Report, 3 June 2012

The town of Pinedale in the US’ cowboy state of Wyoming is remarkably similar to the Karoo towns of Fraserburg or Carnarvon. It is also remote and full of tough people who are accustomed to living in a remote environment.

Like Pinedale, which was founded by John F Patterson in 1904, the South African towns could become the service centres for what is an already well-established hydraulic fracturing industry in Sublette County. Royal Dutch Shell hosted a group, including two University of the Free State academics and the author, to study the impact of the controversial business on the area.

Click here to read the rest of the story..



Enorme Karoo-gasbron gaan boere min help

Landbouweekblad, 27 Mei 2011 (Only in Afrikaans)

Enorme hoeveelhede skaliegas is beslis in die Karookom vasgevang, maar ongelukkig besit grondeienaars in Suid-Afrika nie die mineraleregte soos in Amerika nie. Baie min van daardie geld gaan in hul sakke beland, meen prof. Gerrit van Tonder.

Kliek hier om die res van die storie te lees..

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