Research Projects

CANSA and Fracking

CANSA and Fracking

Borehole for baseline analysis of drinking water

Borehole for baseline analysis of drinking water

Media Release – 21 January 2015 – CANSA’s focus on water baseline analysis in fracking process

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The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) announced a campaign to promote the professional analyses of drinking water in farms in the Karoo due to the risk of water and environmental contamination with carcinogens due to the fracking process.

South Africa stands on the brink of hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) in the Karoo – a mining process designed to release vast amounts of natural gas from shale deposits kilometres underground.  Large quantities of water – as much as between 20 and 30 million litres – are pumped under high pressure into boreholes to release the gas.

Potential harm

Dr Carl Albrecht, CANSA’s Outgoing Head of Research explains, “Unfortunately potentially hazardous substances are often added to the fracking fluid or are released through the process. Some of these are carcinogens such as benzene, that can cause leukaemia, and formaldehyde which have both been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen in humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization’s specialized cancer agency.”

“Because of the high pressure and depth of operation, it’s not surprising that spills of fracking fluid on the way down or up, have been recorded. Also – the contaminated water needs to be disposed of, and there is no clarity on how this will happen in the Karoo. “The fracking fluid that will be disposed of could be laced with up to 750 chemicals, of which about 150 are known carcinogens and/or endocrine disrupting chemicals suspected to be involved in various  cancers,” he added.

Reducing the cancer risk

CANSA, together with two other experts, Jonathan Deal, environmental advocate, CEO and founder of the Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG) and Professor Eugene Cloete, Vice-Rector Research of Stellenbosch University, are concerned about reducing the cancer risk from potential spills and incidents releasing toxic chemicals into the Karoo environment that could make drinking water aquifers dangerous to consume.

Need for baseline analysis of drinking water before fracking

There have reportedly been over 1 000 documented cases in the US of drinking water contamination next to areas of gas drilling as well as cases of sensory, respiratory, and neurological damage due to ingested contaminated water.

Albrecht states, “We tested samples of Karoo water to obtain a baseline as a proof of concept before fracking took place so that if pollution does occur during or after fracking, the data could be used as evidence in court and be a deterrent against pollution. Without such data, a contaminated farm or an affected community would not have a leg to stand on in court because to prove pollution in court one needs ‘Before’ and ‘After’ data of the drinking water aquifers.”

WS Blay of AGES (Pty) Ltd harvesting baseline water from the borehole

WS Blay of AGES (Pty) Ltd harvesting baseline water from the borehole

Results to date

The first formal baseline, aquifer sample of drinking water was taken from a borehole 14 km from Cradock on 4 March 2014 and analysed during 2014. Water was analysed for conductivity, pH, elemental composition, organic molecules and pesticides. Results to date have shown that aquifer drinking water from a borehole in the Karoo can be harvested professionally and analysed for inorganic and organic molecules which were present in low concentrations except for uranium, and strontium which were much higher in the borehole water than for example in Bellville tap water.  This specific fingerprinting of the chemical composition of the borehole water for the farm involved is posted here…

Going forward

CANSA, teaming up with TKAG have formulated 16 recommendations concerning chemical and other analyses of borehole baseline water to ensure transparency. Fracking companies must take responsibility for legal and commercial aspects of water analysis data including payment for all tests. Most important the companies must release all analytical data gathered before, during and after fracking to the Department of Water Affairs as well as an independent non-profit organisation such as CANSA who will place this information on the CANSA website for all, including the farmer/house-owner, to scrutinise and use for litigation if necessary. The fracking companies should also be instructed through legislation to release detailed information of all chemicals added to fracking fluid before authorisation of fracking activities and make this information transparent through posting on the websites of the Department of Water Affairs and CANSA.

TKAG CEO, Jonathan Deal, presented on the failure of South African legislation and the current draft regulations to establish a sound system and methodology for baseline monitoring. “Despite the fact that the MPRDA Amendment Bill and the fracking regulations have not yet been finalised and implemented, the government has authorised the processing of applications to explore for shale gas. Baseline monitoring of water, air and other prevailing conditions is one of several issues that have not been dealt with sufficiently in the regulations. This is the only chance South Africa will have to complete a scientifically sound database of groundwater and air quality in drilling areas before any drilling or fracking starts. We cannot afford to get it wrong.”

Albrecht concluded, “It’s hoped that this initiative will induce fracking companies like Shell, Falcon and Bundu to conduct their operations with the greatest of care and protect the Karoo, plants, animals and humans from any carcinogenic harm through any form of contamination of underground, drinking water aquifers. CANSA, as part of its watchdog role to reduce the cancer risk in South Africa, will monitor this situation carefully.  We regularly conduct research that focusses on reducing the cancer risk and gaining more insight into carcinogens in the environment, including lifestyle choices, which are believed to lead to 90% of all cancers.”

How you can help

  • If you live in the Karoo and use aquifer water to drink, make sure that adequate baseline analyses have been done by fracking companies and placed on the CANSA website before fracking starts
  • Help watchdog scientists to obtain spillage samples for chemical analyses
  • Attend open meetings where fracking legislation is discussed – let your voice be heard
  • Demand transparency about fracking fluid chemicals at any site and protest against carcinogens that may be in the fluid
  • Track waste water and make sure it’s disposed of properly
  • Make a donation to support our research projects to help fight cancer – visit cansa.org.za

Find Fracking presentations, fact sheet and position statement here…

Drinking Water in South Africa – The Big Picture by Prof Eugene Cloete, Vice-Rector for Research and Innovation, Stellenbosch University.

Fracking Legislation – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by Jonathan Deal, CEO of Treasure the Karoo Action Group

The CANSA Fracking Project – What, Where & Why? By Dr Carl Albrecht, CANSA’s Head of Research

Hydraulic Fracturing – CANSA Fact sheet and position statement

For interviews, please contact:

Dr Carl Albrecht, Head of Research – CANSA: 084 208 5150

Jeanie le Roux, Director of Operations – Treasure Karoo Action Group: 072 959 1818

Jonathan Deal, CEO-Treasure Karoo Action Group: 076 838 5150

Queries CANSA

For more information, please contact Lucy Balona, Head: Marketing and Communication at CANSA or email: lbalona@cansa.org.za, call 011 616 7662 or cell: 082 459 5230.  Or visit www.cansa.org.za or call CANSA toll-free 0800 22 66 22, or email: info@cansa.org.za

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