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:
- Chose a very inconvenient time –a Friday afternoon at around 5.00pm is a good time to go for
- Change the venue of the public meeting at the very last minute
- Change the time of the public meeting at the last minute
- Make sure you get a very bad facilitator
- 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!
- 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.