The bid by energy giant Shell to explore over 230 000 square km of the Karoo to extract natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been met with increasing controversy and opposition in recent weeks.
Recently the Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG) submitted an 85-page document in response to the draft environmental management plan prepared by environmental consulting company, Golder Associates Africa, on behalf of Shell. The document explores the legalities and sustainable development issues of fracking. The TKAG has established itself as an opposition organisation against companies prospecting the Karoo for natural gas through fracking, which it calls illegal and unconstitutional. It argues that it also poses potentially severe health side-effects, agricultural damage and water risks due to the number of chemicals used in the process.
Concerns are now being raised about the status of South Africa’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in Sutherland. According to a report in The Times, a key requirement in the bid is clear skies and the absence of interference from artificial light and pollutants. National Coordinator and Spokesperson for the TKGA, Jonathan Deal told Tourism Update that the tourism industry in South Africa had a huge role to play in preventing fracking from taking place in the Karoo: “Picture the introduction of tens of thousands of 18-wheelers, toxic chemicals, drilling rigs belching diesel smoke, derricks spoiling every view. Think of polluted water, polluted air, sick people, no more Karoo lamb, roads turned into dustbowls, wildlife and plants destroyed, no more guest houses and information offices. This is the legacy that Shell and its greedy cousins, Falcon, Bundu and others want to leave to the people of the Karoo and the people of South Africa.”
Deal says the tourism potential of the Karoo is growing year-on-year but is under severe threat from the pursuit of unsustainable fossil fuels, using fracking technology that has since been banned the US, UK, France, Canada and Germany. Says Deal: “I am appealing to the entire tourism industry – every guest house, every person in an info office, every crafter, every guide, every hotelier, every restaurant operator, all the kitchen staff, all the waiters, all the shopkeepers, every author, every artist – everyone who earns a living from tourism, local or international, to please sign a petition in your establishment, gather them, send them to SA Tourism, expose this at the Tourism Indaba, appeal to your minister to protect you from this insidious evil. Stand up and protect the Karoo – she is looking after you today.”
SA Tourism, SANParks and the Department of Environmental Affairs had not responded to questions submitted by Tourism Update at the time of going to print.