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Karoo group files charge over fracking ad

Complaint over a Shell advert which tries to allay public fears about its fracking exploration technique

CHANTELLE BENJAMIN: Published: 2011/04/29 06:40:25 AM

A GROUP of Karoo residents has accused oil company Royal Dutch Shell of being “untruthful and misleading” and has lodged a complaint over an advert which tries to allay public fears about its fracking exploration technique .

The complaint by specialist energy attorneys Havemann Inc on behalf of Treasure the Karoo Action Group is over an advert in the Sunday Times and the Cape Times this month headed “Dialogue on the Karoo”, which they allege aims to mislead readers.

Shell is just one of several oil and gas companies that have applied to explore the Karoo’s shale gas beds to see whether SA has exploitable reserves. The applications have Karoo residents and some scientists up in arms, arguing that the US, UK, Canada and France have all imposed moratoriums on fracking until more is known about its effects on the environment and on communities. They argue that the Karoo is already a sensitive area.

The complaint said Shell spoke of “increased awareness of the benefits of shale gas” when in fact “heightened interest in exploration of shale gas reserves” has led to “increased domestic and global awareness of the associated environmental and health risks of fracturing and not of any so-called benefits of shale gas”.

Havemann said the advert, which asks why no one has heard of hydraulic fracturing when it has been around for 60 years, can mislead readers into believing that “hydraulic fracturing is a commonplace and generally accepted technique for the exploitation of natural gas, which it is not”.

The action group also objected to claims by Shell that “hydraulic fracturing is used in nearly nine out of 10 natural gas wells”, saying the moratorium in many countries makes this figure unlikely.

The group said the diagram was also misleading as it suggested “multiple layers of steel casing and cement will protect” a wet underground layer of water- bearing permeable rock known as an aquifer when these layers are found at greater depths than indicated — such as 1km to 3km — where there would be no such casing, according to the diagram.

The group says the advert alleges that there is no indication of groundwater contamination, when there are reports available, and makes no reference to surface water contamination.

Kim Bye Bruun, speaking for Shell, said yesterday: “We have been made aware of the complaint lodged with the Advertising Standards Authority and the matter had been referred to our legal specialists for review of the complaint, and a response will be made to the (authority) at the appropriate time.”

In fracking a mix of water, sand and chemicals is injected into a wellbore at high pressure to crack rock, and bring gas to the surface in a liquid from which the gas can be extracted.

At issue is the chemicals used. Shell argues that a “typical fracture treatment uses … between three and 12 additives”. The complaint says research over five years showed “2500 hydraulic fracturing products contained as much as 750 chemicals”.

A copy of the contested advert can be found on

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Photo Credit: Reuters

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