Dr. Andrew Venter Blog
Blessed today, cursed tomorrow
June 11, 2012
Last week, South Africa’s Energy Minister Dipuo Peters threw her weight behind the pro-fracking lobby, stating: “We cannot allow a blessing to lie fallow …. If shale gas is one of the blessings, we are going to go for it.” I imagine that this was precisely Paul Kruger’s view when gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand in 1886. His beloved South African Republic had been blessed. Unfortunately, the discovery of gold backfired badly for Paul Kruger and would prove to be undoing of “his” South African Republic. The discovery of gold triggered a massive influx of foreigners determined to exploit this “blessing” for their own good and triggered two wars. At the centre of this transformation was a wild, lawless settlement that became the Johannesburg we know today. Prior to the discovery of Gold nobody lived there except for a few hardy settlers, who eked a living from the hard Highveld environment. There were far more hospitable places to live, with rich soils, healthy rivers and plentiful wild game and grazing.
125 years later, Johannesburg is sitting on a toxic time bomb, known as Acid Mine Drainage. Acid Mine Drainage is caused when water pumped out of the gold mine operations seeps back into the underground aquifers and rises to the surface. This water is contaminated with uranium and other heavy metals and is also extremely acidic. This water is starting to seep out and kill the rivers and wetlands that underwrite life in the greater Johannesburg area. Effectively, the South African Republic’s 1886 blessing has turned out to be a curse, and will be a drain on our economy for decades to come.
The Witbank area has inherited a similar legacy from coal mining. Witbank Town (Emalahleni) was established in 1890. The coal harvested from the Witbank Coalfield has underwritten energy generation and South Africa’s industrial development for the past century. However, as with Johannesburg, the Witbank Area is an environmental war zone. Acid Mine Drainage, heavy metal contamination and air pollution make this an extremely dangerous environment to live in, with allergy, cardiovascular, lung and kidney disease likely.
There is mounting evidence that the Fracking “blessing” could be a curse as well. The process generates waste water which is toxic, contains carcinogenic chemicals and radioactive elements, and needs to be disposed of – somewhere! There is also very real risk of aquifer pollution through chemical spills and cracked well casings. So, do we really need this blessing? Minister Peter’s believes so. I’m not convinced and believe that we need to learn from our own history. Let me know what you think: andrewventer.wordpress.com.Go back