In late 2008, we received a letter notifying us that Samara was being targeted for shale gas exploration by Bundu Oil and Gas, a subsidiary of Australia’s Challenger Energy. The method they proposed to use – hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’ – was, and indeed remains, highly controversial. The process involves injecting a mixture of sand and toxic chemicals into the water table at high pressure to extract shale gas deposits far beneath the surface of the earth. In a water-scarce environment like the Karoo, such a proposal, and the refusal of the company to divulge which chemicals they planned to pump into our waterways, set alarm bells ringing.
Consulting a range of experts in the field confirmed our initial fears – that the Karoo could not afford to be exposed to uncertain shale gas development, particularly given the potential devastating impacts on the economic survival and quality of life of rural communities, not to mention the consequences for the Karoo’s fragile environment. The availability and quality of subterranean water resources represents the lifeblood of the region. For two and a half years, Samara and Derek Light, our appointed lawyer, led the battle against fracking on behalf of the people and biodiversity of the Karoo. We succeeded in demonstrating that Bundu Oil and Gas had not followed due legal process, and managed to get Samara and neighbouring reserves excluded from the exploration area. Since then, however, Shell, Falcon Oil and other large companies have entered the fray – and on a much larger scale.
Today, more than 95,000 square kilometres of the Karoo have been earmarked for fracking. And so the battle rages on, this time at a national level, most recently over the publication by the Minister of Mineral Resources of a set of proposed technical regulations for fracking, deemed flawed and inadequate. In the Karoo, Derek Light now leads the challenge on behalf of a much wider group of concerned parties. Samara continues to stand firm against this unproved and unregulated technique, until such time as fracking can be said to deliver all that it promises without adversely affecting the environment and its people.