Fracking and feminist concerns

By Jen Thorpe

We’ve all heard a lot over the past few weeks about the dangers of fracking for our pristine Karoo environment. Shell, the master of disaster when it comes to environmental damage, has requested the rights to explore the Karoo for natural gas. This is not the type of exploration where you shade your eyes with your hand and look from left to right wearing a small round hat, but that is only one of the reasons that we as feminists should be concerned.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process by which water and a host of secret chemicals are blasted into the earth in an effort to create fractures in the rock deep underground and release natural gas. These almost 600 chemicals are often a secret, and often contain a varied mixture of a lot of chemicals ending with ethyl. How ‘natural’ all of this is, is entirely questionable. Environmental groups like Greenpeace Africa, farmers and most of the SA public have rejected fracking in the Karoo, and there is even a Facebook cause that you can support and learn more about the debate as it progresses. At the moment, the SA government has called a moratorium, which means that pending research they won’t approve anything. Lets just hope that Shell is not paying for the research.

Fracking has been linked to huge environmental problems  in the immediate area around the drilling. These include chemicals in the drinking water and flammable drinking water making it unsafe to drink, bathe or wash your clothes. The cylinders containing the gas when it is extracted can explode – and with a highly flammable Karoo plant life this is also not the brightest plan. It has also been linked to humans and animals developing illness, losing their hair, suffering intense headaches, increased risk of cancer, and death of fish and other creatures who live around water sources.

Whilst no more mozzies in the Karoo might seem like an appealing idea to you, think a little harder. What goes down, must come from somewhere. It does. The water used for fracking, has to be trucked to the site. How much water is used? 1oos of truckloads of water for every drilling site. I don’t mean teeny tiny lego trucks, I mean giant petrol tankers full of water. With an unstable water supply in SA, and an eminent dependence on other Southern African nations for our water supply, this is not something we should be in support of. Nor should we support the water that is left behind to affect the environment and air for the communities near the fracking sites.

If you’ve had a look at a map lately, the Karoo isn’t exactly a coastal area. The hundreds of trucks of water per site will have to be driven in trucks up and down South Africa. Some have argued for fracking because this will mean ‘job creation’, a buzzword in SA where jobs are promised by govt for any number of things. But, these jobs will not be permanent. When the gas is drilled, the trucking ends. This will not build up local communities – it will be a hit and run. Another question to ask is – what jobs (even if they are temporary) for women will emerge from this process?

Moreover, we know from the history of the truck trade in SA that truckers, well…they like to get it on. In clear terms, trucking and cross border prostitution are linked – where you see a large amount of cross border trade (i.e. when we have to ask Lesotho for some more water to blow up our natural and endangered environment), borders become a site where prostitution is common. I recently watched a documentary about prostitution and cross border trade between Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and there were entire villages where women moved to earn money via prostitution.

If, against all logic, fracking is approved by our government, we must ask them about the HIV awareness and education that will be provided to prostitutes along the routes to protect themselves, to truck drivers to protect themselves, and how condom use will be promoted. This is of course speculation, but it is speculation that must be performed when we consider the social impact of fracking.

Further speculation might include how these trucks might come to be used as vehicles for human trafficking, how the women in the communities where fracking takes place will have to travel further to collect clean and safe drinking water, how HIV positive people in the area will be affected by the unsafe conditions of the drinking water and the illnesses associated with fracking, how we will provide further health care in an already unstable health system, how our dependence on water from other nations will prevent us from criticising their human rights abuses, how we will sustain governments that legitimate the abuse of women and LGBTI people.

We cannot continue to think in a linear fashion – we are part of the environment we will destroy with invasive drilling processes like fracking.


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