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Refugee from Shell slams fracking

Nigerian ‘political and environmental refugee Barry Wuganaale, a member of the Ogoni people from Niger Delta in Nigeria, opposes Shell’s fracking plans. Photo: Michael Walker

April 6 2011

Melanie Gosling

and Grace Huang

WHEN Nigerian political refugee Barry Wuganaale heard on television that Shell would be fracking for gas in the Karoo, he nearly choked on his dinner.

“I was shocked. I didn’t need to think twice about opposing this. South Africa has no experience of Shell operating upstream. You know them at the pumps here, but not drilling,” Wuganaale said yesterday. “I am from the Ogoni people in the Nigeria. We know Shell. What Shell has done to the Ogoni people and to the Nigerian state, I don’t wish to be repeated on anyone.”

Describing himself as a “environment and political refugee”, Wuganaale formed the Ogoni Solidarity Forum in Cape Town. He was among about 50 protesters who gathered at Parliament yesterday to mark the handing over of the Treasure the Karoo Action Group’s written objection to Shell’s proposed fracking for gas in the Karoo. The proposal has encountered widespread opposition because of the risk to the environment.

Officials from President Jacob Zuma’s office received the document, which calls for an immediate halt to any such plans. Wuganaale and Christiaan Kargbo, also an Ogoni, carried a banner that read: “Together we can defeat oil multinationals” and “Environmental right is a human right”, with a photograph of Nigerian author and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who strongly opposed Shell’s activities in the Niger Delta. Saro-Wiwa was executed with nine other people by the Nigerian government in 1995. Wuganaale said the Ogoni people, believing Shell was behind the execution of Saro-Wiwa and the others, took legal action against the company in the United States under an American law that allows a company registered there to be charged for crimes committed in other countries.

“Shell knew they would be rubbished in court, so they settled out of court, and paid $15.5 million to the 10 families of the deceased. But the destruction of the environment, the health hazard, the poisoning of the atmosphere, these things Shell has not talked about.”

Another protester, Marilyn Lilley, said so much was known about the harmful consequences of fracking that she did not understand how the Shell initiative has got this far.

“They need a competent person in the government to assess everything. After they consider all the known scientific data, I believe it won’t go ahead. It could lead to the … destruction of the Karoo.”

Adrienne van der Merwe, born in the Karoo, said friends who farmed or owned land there worried most about the potential pollution and water shortage fracking could cause.

“Even if it will create jobs, they’re relatively short-term and will last maybe 15 years. But then the damage is done.”

Lawyer and environmental activist Lewis Pugh said: “Shell will tell you this is all clean and green. That is utter nonsense. It is lethal.”

The group’s document calls for a moratorium on all fracking as there is no national policy to define fracking or capacity to enforce compliance with conditions of approval.

The Cape Times asked Shell to comment, but had not received a reply by the time of going to press.

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