Let us not go quietly into a bleak future

I went along to Shell’s public meeting last Friday regarding their plans to explore for Shale gas in the Karoo. 

Earthlife Africa and the Treasure the Karoo Action Group had organised a protest outside the venue. It was fantastic to see so many people protesting, with a variety of clever slogans chanting “Go Shell, No Well, Go to Hell!” 

Should you ever be in the position where you have to organise a public meeting, here are some handy tips that I picked up from Shell.

5 ways to ensure that as few people as possible attend your public meeting:

  1. Chose a very inconvenient time –a Friday afternoon at around 5.00pm is a good time to go for
  2. Change the venue of the public meeting at the very last minute
  3. Change the time of the public meeting at the last minute
  4. Make sure you get a very bad facilitator
  5. Send the Head of Marketing, cunningly disguised as the Chairman of your company.

 The meeting hall was packed and the atmosphere in the room was tense with emotions running high.  The meeting started off with the Chairman of Shell South Africa (later discovered to be actually only the Head of Marketing) outlining Shell’s commitments to the Karoo. It was pretty much the same things that were outlined in the full page advert that Shell had placed in the Argus newspaper the previous week.


He assured the audience that Shell would not compete with people or animals for water and that Shell would compensate those who could prove Shell’s activities had affected them or their land. (If you have seen the documentary Gasland you will know that it is extremely difficult, near impossible, to prove that the toxic mix of chemicals suddenly found in your groundwater is actually caused by the gas company drilling in your front yard). 

The main concerns voiced from the audience were around the large amounts of water needed and the chemicals that would be used. The Chairman of Shell, sorry, I mean the Head of Marketing, said that they did not yet know where they would be getting the water from but thought they could get water from aquifers that were brackish or saline or use sea water or grey water. This did not do much to placate the audience. I wonder how then Shell can say that they won’t compete with people or animals for water if they do not know where they will be getting their water from?

Then we were told that there was going to be a surprise presentation and Lewis Pugh came up to the podium. At first we were a bit sceptical, why was Lewis there giving a presentation at a Shell meeting?  And with the power point slide of Shell’s promises to the people of SA behind him we started getting suspicious. Well, Lewis, I feel extremely ashamed for doubting you, even for a moment, please accept my apologies!

 Lewis gave an emotive and inspiring speech about our constitution which holds the rights of the citizens of SA. “Many people fought and died for our rights and never again should the rights of South Africans be trampled upon. The right to a healthy environment and the right to water are enshrined in our constitution. We should not allow corporate greed to desecrate our environment. What is more important? Gas or water? We can live without gas but we cannot survive without water. SA is an arid country and having scarce water will create conflict in our country. Now is the time for peace in SA.  Are we prepared to ruin our environment for 5 years of fossil fuels? Shell will tell us that gas is clean and green and will create jobs, but Africa is to Shell what the Gulf of Mexico was to BP”. 

Lewis went on to lambaste Shell for their shocking record in the Niger delta, spilling over 9 million barrels of oil – twice that of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He told us how Shell stands accused of being complicit in the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and 8 other environmental activists. If Shell was innocent why did they pay $15.5m to the widows to settle out of court? 

“We cannot drill our way out of an energy crisis, the era of fossil fuels is over. We must invest in renewable energy and without delay. We are tired of corporate tyranny. Let this be a call to arms: stand up and demand your rights! Let us not go quietly into a bleak future”. Lewis ended his poignant speech threatening Shell that we would take this fight all the way from their petrol pumps to the highest court in the land. 

Watch Lewis Pugh’s entire speech on youtube  

Jonathan Deal from the Treasure the Karoo Action Group also gave a presentation. He warned that Shell’s activities would land up taking more people out of jobs than it would create. Although Shell has said that it will only be drilling 24 wells, not even one well was acceptable because if Shell found gas they would go ahead with fracking.   

The next presentation was about the drilling process. Each well would be encased with cement and we were assured that under no circumstances would water contamination occur. Water contamination would only happen if a well was not installed properly. The fracturing process does not cause any pollution. It is the improperly encasing of wells that causes the pollution. Oh great. So we don’t need to worry about that fracking then. So, bungee jumping is totally safe and won’t kill you, it is the rope breaking that will kill you.

The two types of frack fluid that would be used, we were told, were no more than a carbohydrate – like a ‘mix of water and flour’ or like a ‘hand cream or lotion’. There was no mention of the cocktail of toxic chemicals that would be in the frack fluid.

 We were reassured that all the frack fluids would be recovered and that there was a recovery rate of between 20-80%. So, less than a quarter of the frack fluids could be recovered. I did not find that very reassuring at all!  

Fast Facts:

  • 24 wells
  • 2.2 million litres of water per well
  • 1000-1500 trucks per well 

A highlight of the meeting was when Shell told us that they were a “good corporate citizen” this was met with roars of laughter from the audience. Which I can understand when considering  Shell’s track record of spills, contaminations, pipeline ruptures, violations of environmental regulations, dumping of toxic waste, flaring of gas, paying of environmental fines and settlements.  

The presenters had obviously also seen Gasland (a documentary about fracking in America), as had the very restless and angry audience. The presenters kept making references to the movie saying that the mistakes/contaminations that had been exposed would not happen here in SA because it would be done properly. 

Many of the questions revolved around renewable energy, people wanted to know why Shell did not use their considerable resources for renewable energy. This answer from Shell was a winner: “we are increasing our renewable energy. At the moment we have 70% oil and 30% gas, but soon it will be 50/50.” I’m sorry Shell, but unfortunately gas is not a renewable energy technology. Shell’s blatant lack of even the most basic understanding of what renewable energy actually is was shocking to say the least.  

Another great moment in the meeting was when concerns were raised about a spill, Shell reassured us that if there was a spill of any kind they would be able to clean it up using recognised techniques to a satisfactory level because “IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME”.  

So in short, we don’t need to be concerned about fracking as it does not cause pollution. The fluids are like handcream. Nothing will go wrong. There will be no contamination. Unless of course something goes wrong. Which it won’t.

19 responses to “Let us not go quietly into a bleak future

  1. Brilliantly written post!

  2. Alistar Harris

    This is indeed a brilliant post Team P90! Frack off Shell!!!

  3. Excellent post! Keep SA free of frackers!

  4. Join and to see how you can help. )It has been established that the Chairman is indeed the Chairman of Shell SA)

  5. Brilliant post. It’s absolutely ridiculous what they want us to believe!

  6. Good and informative post. What is glaringly obvious is that Shell have not realised that those who attend these meetings and protests are far more informed than their representative.

    I can’t help but also point out that events like this could be avoided if there simply was no demand for these products. I’m assuming everyone at the meeting actually makes use of these products (lets not argue over the quantity or waste), doesn’t this make events like this hypocritical in some sense. After all it’s okay to use these products if they’re not from your backyard?

    If we remove the demand, we’ll rid ourselves and our neighbours of the supply.

  7. Pugh’s speech may have been “inspiring”, but that is simply because it was full was desperate stretches of imagination to get the audience onside.

    While Shell is certainly no angel when it comes to clear speech – and, who knows – perhaps (probably even) truthfulness, Pugh used his position and the audience to enhance the emotionally-driven scaremongering that those in opposition to fracking have relied on to get the numbers behind their campaign.

    “It’s absolutely ridiculous what they want us to believe!” exclaims Janet above.

    It is, Janet – but who are “they”?

    There actually is no choice “between gas or water”, Eskom uses 1000’s of times more water each month than Shell will in the entire process.
    Has that taken us back to the conflict of the Apartheid era, Lewis? Will Shell being turned down lead to complete countrywide peace? No. That’s BS.

    And yet people lap it up – anxious that others should not be brainwashed by Shell – they are being brainwashed by Mr Pugh.

    WAKE UP!

    You are actually absolutely right in your last paragraph: “we don’t need to be concerned about fracking as it does not cause pollution. The fluids are like handcream. Nothing will go wrong. There will be no contamination. Unless of course something goes wrong.”

    That’s because fracking is just like every other industrial process on the planet. Just like the processes that produce the petrol that got 99% of the people to that meeting, just like the electricity that is powering their computers while they are reading this.
    And yet they still drive and they still power their PCs.

    I am not, repeat not, standing up for Shell here: I am merely standing up for people being informed honestly, logically and without the cherry-picked information that people are being fed by both sides.

    You point out how Shell choose what they tell people. You neglect to acknowledge that Treasure the Karoo and Lewis Pugh are doing exactly the same.

    My post on the subject from last week:

  8. Theo Gerrits

    Bang on!

  9. “They” are the multinational companies who use greenwash and good PR to make us believe that what they are doing is okay and safe to the people living around the affected areas. Companies and highly paid officials and CEO’s that would like us believe that we need to keep relying on non-renewable energy sources, and that they don’t need to look at wind and solar power instead. Or… worse, making people think that gas is a green energy!

    Yes, we all need to simplify our lives, reduce our consumerism, use more public transport, save more water and use less electricity. BUT the people in power must also start to really act in the best interest of the people, instead of chasing after the biggest possible profits.

    Have you not heard how chemical pollution endangers the health of communities in various towns, locations and areas not only in South Africa, but worldwide? Air and water pollution is very real to people who die of respiratory diseases, cancer and brain-damage caused by contaminated water and toxic air.

    Yes, we have relied on coal, gas and nuclear energy for all our energy needs and we’re all part of the problem since we USE the energy, BUT we are not given any alternatives, and the ‘people in power’ are not making or supporting any real changes that gives us these alternatives that we so desperately need. South Africa signed the Kyoto Protocol and the target is to reduce our carbon emissions rate by 30% within our 20 year electricity growth plan, if I understand it correctly. The hydraulic fracturing process to extract gas (and also release methane gas into the atmosphere) is a temporary, unsustainable solution which will only supply energy for a couple of years, a decade at most. And through the fracking process to attain this temporary energy source, an enormous amount of carbon emissions is created, and chemical toxins introduced into a vulnerable water-scarce ecology, which is home to various communities and farmers who all rely on the water and air to live. I have heard rumours that a lot of these people who’s lives will be changed by fracking operations still have no idea of what’s happening and they only have until 5 April to register and submit their comments!

    In the information age, and with the kind help of Google, everyone CAN make sure that they are informed and obtain all the information that they need to make a decision and a stand for themselves. When I stood in Newlands with my placard that I painted onto a piece of (yes, petroleum-based) plastic which I’ve been saving among other re-usable materials, I was already informed, and while Lewis Pugh’s speech was very emotional, it only strengthened by resolve and opened my eyes even wider to what we stand to lose if we allow big corporations to further degrade our environment and endanger people’s health and safety in a pursuit for non-renewable energy sources.

  10. I don’t believe that we’ll find a truly renewable source of energy. We’ll eventually have to simply settle for the lesser of what ever evils we choose.

    And before anyone starts on wind power (noise, space, materials, more space and more materials) solar power (heck more space and materials) where will these devices suddenly come from and where will they stay and how will they convey energy from point A to B and (there are a lot of and’s here) and maintenance/longevity?

    Truth is that this particular proposed plan doesn’t seem to be a long term solution so it’s not really solving a problem but patching it. Truth is I tend to agree with 6000, so much info that’s being touted as the whole truth from each side. Somewhere in the middle we’ll find the truth to this new religion.

  11. Janet > Leaving aside your statements on pollution etc (the sentiment of which which I agree with in the main, by the way) – my argument was not about fracking, Shell or the Karoo but with the way that the majority of the opposition to the exploration of the Karoo is so very blinkered and un(der)informed.

    Sadly, “they” are not restricted to one side of this argument as you seem to imagine. There is very much a “they” on the other side too, arguing against Shell.

    You state that it is easy to become informed in this day and age. Well, yes it is, but if you take fracking as an example then it’s only easy to become informed with biased misinformation and spin.
    I have searched and searched and searched and really only come up with two fairly decent, seemingly objective articles/reports. (can be found in the comments of my fracking post and here)
    Everything else led back to oil companies (probably about 20%) or environmental groups (the other 80%).

    But do people actually want to be objectively informed anyway? As far as I can see, the vast majority of those at Friday’s meeting took Lewis Pugh’s speech as the gospel truth – it wasn’t.
    It was based on emotion and not logic. And the solid facts that were contained in there were diluted and devalued by the rhetoric and spin that he padded it out with. But look at the reception he got.
    Do these people really believe, for example, that there will be a return to conflict across South Africa if Shell gets the rights to explore the Karoo for natural gas? And if so, why do they believe that?
    Because they are poorly informed.

    I would hope that you, as green blogger, would be better informed than most and I completely respect anyone’s right to have an opinion on this matter or any other. I understand why Shell (and others) want to explore the Karoo. I understand why people in the Karoo are concerned. I just value informed opinions more than those who are just joining up because it’s “cool to be green” etc.

    I have no respect for those on either side who are peddling their agenda through emotion, misinformation, scaremongering and brainwashing.
    These tactics must stop (a pipe dream, I know) so that a cool, calm and rational decision can be made.

  12. Oops. Missing after want. Need a PREVIEW option! 🙂

  13. Citizens knowledge on this topic can never be underestimated. All legal forms of opposition are valid in a democratic country and prevention is better than cure. Calm rational negotiation did not stop Shell from damaging the Niger Delta or funding execution of environmental campaigners. Conflict over water & desertification (Sahel, JHB, Ethiopia, Nile, Niger), unemployment (Egypt,Tunisia, SA), contamination (JHB, Nigeria, toxic dumps in Somalia) and food shortages (North Africa, Zimbabwe) are real and distinct possibilities and the resulting migration too can cause conflict. We can see human rights violation by gas industry on you tube in USA and Australia and why is a victim an emotional environmentalist. The contrary, they are warning us and are to be admired and should not suffer in silence with the planet. Here is a report from Tyndall Climate Centre in Manchester for 6000.

  14. 7777 > (You always have to go 1777 better, don’t you?)

    Thanks for the link, if not for the lecture.

    It seems that you have missed my point a little, as eloquently as I have attempted to state it. I am not arguing for Shell here. I am arguing for clarity and honesty from both sides in this debate.

    At the moment, we are not getting that and while people on one side are very quick to accuse Shell of misinformation and “dirty tactics”, they are missing the same thing being done by the parties they are supporting.

    I haven’t had time to read through the Tyndall Climate Centre report, nor look into the people/agencies behind it, but if it is an objective and accurate source, then the views therein should be a consideration on this issue.

    If it emerges that it is funded (in any way) by oil companies or environmental groups, then it has no value here. Which is the same as about a billion (slight exaggeration) other articles and papers which I have seen around the subject of fracking.

  15. Pingback: How Things Work | 6000 miles from civilisation...

  16. I read with interest all of the comments here. As a researcher in behaviour change in the energy sector, and someone who is committed to preservation of our natural resources for future generations, I read extensively and attended a number of discussions about Fracking last week. I also saw the documentary Gaslands, etc, etc. I also attended the public meeting and thought Lewis’s speech was very powerful. The gathering itself was very emotionally charged, but at the same time the facts offered by Shell were questionable themselves, and the tended to sweep over specific details. Factually (so far as facts allow one close enough to the truth), there is more evidence to me that this fracking business is not a good idea than there is that it should be allowed. It’s also an opportunity for us to try something more sustainable.

    However, my main point that I’d like to make is that you can give people all the facts you like and bombard them with details, but unless they connect emotionally with the issue nothing will really change. Knowing smoking causes cancer doesn’t stop people from smoking, knowing that climate change is happening doesn’t stop us flying overseas (even though logically we know it’s the right thing to do). When have you known something and actually acted on that knowledge? When have you thought something is really important to you, and then taken the action? Were you experiencing any emotions at the time?

    So all you fact seekers out there: allow yourself to be human beings and experience the emotions, you are not a fact storage machines, …and all those of you who get swept up in the emotions and want to shout and scream at Shell and others: get your facts straight. Somewhere in between we fill find a balance that allows us to make the best choices for ourselves and for the greater good.

  17. The Tyndall centre report was commisioned by an organisation to determine if investment in gas fracturing is ethical and sustainable. There are so many factors in fracking that not even the energy companies can get them straight like indirect, cumulative impacts. We do not know all the impacts. Any industry has impacts but not many with this potential for adverse impacts over such a large area with so little time to research the impacts. In a perfect world people would get paid to educate public on their rights and the steps in the planning process, on the effects of pollutants on their health and environment, the gas production process and coordinate a proper representation of the citizens. People get frustrated because of the short window to get their opinion heard and their lack of access to information from industry and leaders. Lets agree that clarity and honesty are essential for a sustainable outcome and the public are deprived of both.

  18. If we want this civilization to continue, then we need to make certain (read: many) adjustments towards the very people who are supplying us with food, water, electricity and fuel.

    You cant claim, in general, that BP, Shell, Caltex, Monsanto etc are all 100% wrong.

    Do you have any idea what HUGE efforts will be required to keep perhaps more than 10 billion people alive and well by 2050?

    We are already making sacrifices — and many more to come …

  19. We got to choose the lesser evil — that goes for many, many things in life:

    1 .Abortion — Rather kill a baby than letting him/her suffer from starvation.

    2. Kevorkian — Rather kill a terminal patient than letting him/her suffer.

    3. Power Stations — Yes, it kills people, but can we do without it?

    I personally feel uneasy with Koeberg so close to civilization — would rather see it in the Karoo where it will harm far less people than CT should something go wrong — but I got to accept it here because of … yes, that right! … financial considerations.

    We can dump as much as we want to on big companies, but they are playing a huge role in keeping us alive and well — surely, they make mistakes, but who does not?

    While everyone is reaping the fruit of an advanced society, why do some people think they are exempt from paying the price associated with modern life?

    Have a look at a YouTube clip (200 years 200 countries in 4 minutes)

    What I got from that, is that millions and millions people gave their time, money, effort and health to bring this planet to a point where it can support billions of people. (6.9bil+, I think)

    It is our duty to stop complaining and criticize and actually do some productive work.

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