Hydraulic Fracturing, also known as “fracking,” is a technique in which typically water is mixed with sand and chemicals, and injected at high pressure into rock to create small fractures. These fractures then allow for the extraction of liquids like gas or petroleum.

The process is water-intensive, using up to 24 million litres of water per frack, according to Jolynn Minnaar, an independent journalist and fracking researcher. For every four million gallons of water used in fracking, up to 330 tons of chemicals are also injected into the ground. These chemicals, which include carcinogens and hydrochloric acid, contaminate both the water supply and air, said Minnaar during a recent talk at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“We also need to consider the natural elements found in the shale bedrock itself that return to the surface along with the original chemicals” said Minnaar, who recently directed the documentary film, “Unearthed,” about fracking-related contamination and public health consequences in the Untied States.

Among these naturally occurring elements are heavy metals and radioactive elements such as arsenic, mercury, lead and uranium.

Currently, there are more than 180 bans or moratoria on fracking worldwide.

Safeguarding South Africa’s scarce water?

Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa’s announced on Monday that an intention to declare fracking a controlled activity in terms of South Africa’s Water Act.

“What this means is that fracking becomes a water use, thus requiring a water use license,” said Molewa during a Wednesday press briefing. “In this regard only matters concerning water resources will be of consideration when licenses are issued, including but not limited to the possible impact of substances and chemicals on the ground water resource.”

The public will now have 60 days in which to comment on the move.

Jonathan Deal, from the Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG), has accused government of rushing to pursue fracking’s socio-economic benefits– such as job creation and alternative energy sources – without considering the long-term environmental impacts.

“We are concerned that there is a lack of understanding in our government around the issues of shale gas mining,” Deal told Health-e. “We are concerned that in desperation to provide jobs, deal with the energy problems, and raise revenue for the country that our leaders are trying anything to show that they are doing a good job, to ensure their votes in the election next year.”

Deal added that there had been no public consultation around fracking and that task teams assigned to investigate fracking in South Africa has been working in secret.

“Fracking does not only scar the environment, it poses a real health threat to surrounding communities,” he stressed.  – Health-e News Service.