|WWF slams 'ethical' fracking
by Duncan Alfreds
10 September 2012
Cape Town - Ethical extraction of shale gas leaves many questions around the process of hydraulic fracturing or fracking unanswered, an environmental activist organisation has said.
The government lifted the moratorium on fracking in the Karoo on Friday and major oil and gas firm Shell is set to begin the exploration of shale gas within about two years.
"WWF has from the outset of these discussions around shale gas, made it very clear that we have major concerns over the carbon intensity of shale gas extraction," Dr Mornι du Plessis CEO of WWF South Africa told News24.
Shell told News24 that the company was committed to ethical fracking practices as it has a long history of business in SA and was concerned about its reputation.
"Don't forget that we are not a fly-by-night. We have been in this country for 110 years as a company so we have a reputation that we have to protect here which obviously we don't want to damage," Jan Willem Egginck, Upstream (Exploration) Shell South Africa told News24.
According to the WWF, though, there were many questions around the feasibility of the extraction process that included flow back of the gas.
Flow back is the process where the fluids used in the process are allowed to flow out of the wells and captured after treatment.
"If any gas company says that it will extract shale gas in an ethical manner, WWF would want to know whether they can show us any examples where the flow back that happens" results in no damage to the environment, said Du Plessis.
According the WWF, the average methane loss amounts to 1.6% of the total resource and this had a harmful impact on the environment.
"This is not entering into the mindset or equation of any gas company at the moment because they don't calculate that as part of the carbon footprint," Du Plessis said.
Shell has said that most of the reports of water pollution from the fracking process were related to unscrupulous operators that didn't not seal the gas wells properly or did not drill down deep enough to reach the shale.
Typically, gas wells should be sealed with cement at regular intervals in the drilling process and pressure tested to ensure the well's integrity.
Water is usually found at a few hundred metres down, whereas shale is far deeper, at around 2km in depth.
Oil companies are eager to present themselves well in the mainstream media and have indicated that shale gas is the ideal alternative energy source while renewable energy improves in technology to be able to deliver high capacities needed for industry.
"The renewable are not yet there. I passed the big Volkswagen and General Motors plant: These plants can't run on renewable energy yet; you need actually a lot of supply," said Egginck.
Du Plessis rejected this argument and warned that the debate would rage for some time.
"We feel a little bit bullied by the big gas companies that put their big propaganda machinery in place and it's very easy to ignore some of the facts that counter some of these glib statements."
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