Shell’s ‘tactics’ anger Karoo farmers

Many farmers in the Middelburg, Graaff-Reinet, Nieu Bethesda and Cradock districts of the Karoo are upset by energy company Shell’s attempts to contact them individually and speak of ‘divide and rule tactics’.

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They also say that Shell has failed to answer many of their questions at meetings at the time of the submission of Shell’s Environmental Management Plan (EMP) along with its exploration licence application. “I’m sorry to hear that people regard what we’re doing as divide and rule tactics, because that’s not our intention,” said Shell spokesperson Janine Nel.

“We were given 120 days to submit the EMP and during that time we had a number of public meetings, but there was no time for one-on-one meetings, which is what we’re doing now. We have various community liaison officers and the whole point of their role is to meet with people all over the Karoo, to tell people about the project, to listen to the concerns people have and to answer their questions.”

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However, it has been claimed that Shell has yet to answer fundamental questions, such as where it would source the huge amount of water required for fracking and what chemicals it would use. “Shell must understand that if it wants to talk to the Middelburg farmers then it should phone Derek Light, the attorney who’s representing thousands of Karoo farmers and citizens opposed to fracking and shale gas mining,” said Rocco de Villiers, chairperson of the Middelburg Farmers’ Union.

Light, meanwhile, wondered why Shell was contacting Karoo community members at this stage, “when the government’s proposed revised technical regulations haven’t been approved and no exploration rights have been granted to date”. He added that “Shell was legally obliged to meet with the people of the Karoo, in groups or one-on-one during the EMP process, and to answer their questions in the EMP, which it did not do”.

A community meeting was held on 1 November 2013 in Graaff-Reinet, attended by, among others, members of Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG), which is now chaired by Pastor Barry Wuganaale from Nigeria. Here, Daantjie Japhta, head of the Khoi’s Inqua Nation and vice-chairperson of the TKAG, told Shell representatives: “You will get a big no from us as Khoi people to fracking. You never even consulted us. We will organise and mobilise. We will ask to go before the United Nations, because this oil and gas business means we will never see our land again.”

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Shell’s Niall Kramer responded, saying: “Fracking happens very deep in the earth. We are unaware of any cases of contamination.” Shell’s representatives also said that the company would not compete with farmers for water, but would bring it in from elsewhere. But they could not say from where the water would come. “Our geo-hydrologists would need to answer this and far more research would need to be done,” said Nel.