Make fracking as safe as possible

Fracking, the hydraulic fracturing of rock formations to exploit oil and gas reserves, is credited with changing the balance of the world’s economy by making the US less dependent on fuel imports.

In fact, according to Bloomberg business news, the US has exported an average of 99 million barrels of petroleum each month over the past year. That’s roughly quadruple what the US was exporting a decade ago.

South Africa could conceivably become fuel independent if some of the claims about shale gas reserves in the Karoo prove accurate.

However, it is an emotive issue, with extremists on both sides promising either an economic cornucopia or apocalyptic destruction of the pristine Karoo.

Coverage of fracking is swayed by prejudices. Television footage of flames coming out of water taps is used by one side to show the dangers of fracking, while others offer plausible explanations for this phenomenon. Last year the state-funded Water Research Commission listed several risks to human health, water tables and the environment generally.

Pollution was singled out as the main hazard.

Groundwater, rivers and lakes would be affected by cancer-causing fracking compounds and other toxic pollutants such as benzene, hydrochloric acid and isopropanol.

The report also warned of the accidental release of underground uranium and other radioactive elements into water and soil. In addition, there might be underground mini-earthquakes, cave-ins and land subsidence. There could also be air pollution from methane and other shale gases, the report said. All reminiscent of Chris Rea’s Road to Hell.

Yet the US sky has not fallen in. Many Cabinet members favour fracking. It’s likely to happen, for economic reasons. SA needs that energy. All who are able to do so must help ensure the least possible harm is caused.

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