The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Peace Park is a rich ecosystem where one finds the gemsbok desert antelope, black-maned Kalahari lions and pygmy falcons. It’s known far and wide for its breathtaking wilderness, wildlife and rest camps.
Welcome to the new home of gas exploration and fracking.
Last year, natural gas frackers from the UK – Karoo Energy formerly known as Nodding Donkey – bought exploration licenses for more than 87,000 square miles of the Botswana park with the intention of fracking for shale gas.
South Africa’s Karoo semi-desert natural region will soon be added to its portfolio, according to a recent letter to shareholders.
Extraction of the area’s vast underground supplies of natural gas from coal beds requires hydraulic fracturing– or “fracking” by pumping water and chemicals into rock at high pressure.
While government officials deny that drilling has begun, the Guardian newspaper found oil sediment on the ground near a popular camp site. There was an overwhelming smell of tar and a drill stem protruded from an apparently recently drilled hole, they said. It is not known who had carried out the drilling or when.
For more than a decade, Botswana—known as one of Africa’s best-governed states—was granting licenses for coal bed methane extraction despite the lack of public debate, particularly considering the serious threats these developments might pose to the environment and communities.
One such threat is the downward pressure of fracking on a community’s water table. Jeffrey Barbee, who made the film “The High Cost of Cheap Gas,” explained that a lower water table in rural Botswana could mean the difference between a community having access to water one day and not the next.
Other critics include nature scientist Gus Mills, who lived and worked in Kgalagadi for 18 years. He called fracking “another nail in the coffin of wild areas in the world.”
Olmo von Meijenfeldt, director of the South African organization Democracy Works, added succinctly: “Governments should be reluctant if not downright hostile towards extracting natural resources for a short-term benefit that will contribute to a deterioration of habitat and our long-term capacity for sustainable development and poverty alleviation.”
Meanwhile, a South African debate on fracking is gaining momentum. Public meetings have been held in the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal where the Texas-based Rhino Oil and Gas has applied for natural gas exploration rights.
A new national alliance against fracking – Frack Free South Africa – has been formed and an online petition to Botswana’s President Ian Khama and Karoo Energy CEO Noel Lyons demanding an end to fracking in Kgalagadi National Park has already drawn 992 signers as of this month.
The debate, however, has failed to slow President Jacob Zuma, who is backing quick action on licenses for the exploration of shale gas drilling through fracking even though a two year study of the practice is still underway.