In 2013, government denied existence of fracking activities in the CKGR. After media exposés, it then admitted that US companies were given licenses to prospect for shale gas. A week ago a massive earthquake that shook all of SADC originated from the same area. Government dismissed links to fracking. Experts suggest that fracking may have caused earth ruptures while evidence obtained show the epicentre of the quake right below gas mining areas.
The US Government Survey (USGS) indicates in its latest calculations that the epicentres of the earthquake which shook much of the sub region last week is under the largest mining sites where Tlou Energy has been issued permission to explore shale gas in the last five years.
Despite the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security’s denial that the earthquake that occurred on Monday 3rd April 2017 was caused by fracking, geological experts and anti-fracking activists are concerned over the possible link- between the three earthquakes that shook Botswana this past week- to oil and gas horizontal fracturing operations in the region.
On the Monday in question, a 6.5 MW hit the Botswana, sending tremors that were felt as far as South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Experts said it was the largest of its kind inland. This was subsequently followed by a mild 5.0 magnitude quake in the Letlhakane area on Wednesday and one of a less felt 4.6 magnitude on Saturday in the same region.
The US Government Survey, an organisation well known for mapping exact earthquake locations worldwide with precision, has in their latest calculations determined that the tremor which shook much of the sub region last week is under the gas well sites where Tlou Energy, a gas mining company has been operating about the last five years.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Botswana Geoscience Institute, Tiyapo Ngwisanyi, has however dismissed suggestions that the earthquake, which occurred at a depth of 29km was a result of prospecting mining activities stemming from either drilling or hydraulic fracking activities. He added that although he could not readily explain the precise causes, most earthquakes were of natural causes and normally happen along geological faults due to subterranean (tectonic) tensions.
“It is very important to note that the earthquake occurred naturally due to tectonic movement of the earth. It was not an induced or manmade earthquake caused by fracking, mining or exploration activities as it happened at a greater depth,’’ stressed a communiqué from the Minerals Ministry’s Public Relations Unit.
Are there grounds to doubt a purely natural occurrence?
In an interview with South African radio station – Cape Talk Show, the Director of AllianceEarth.org Jeffrey Barbee said that it was proven that hydraulic fracking causes earthquakes but was quick to qualify the statement by indicating that, “It is unscientific at the moment to declare that gas mining was the cause this time.”
He said that satellite data images accessed from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) US (which The Botswana Gazette has seen) show that the gas extraction sites in Botswana have been getting larger and larger in the past months indicating ongoing activity. He advised that evidence showing that fracking contributes to earthquakes must be kept in mind and not disregarded in an outright manner.
Barbee posits that while it is not actually possible to say scientifically without more information about fracking activities in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), one thing is however certain about fracking; “to produce gas from the coal seams you need to pump out a lot of water that it sits on, to let the gas ‘desorb’ ’’ – just like releasing the pressure in a can of soda allows the carbon-dioxide to bubble out and the potential consequences of the resulting pressure is earthquakes”.
“There is one large caveat to that though, Botswana is 570 000km2, it is highly unlikely that with the only industrial gas activity at that point of the size mega vent that occurred on the 3rd of April that is about 4km away from the largest gas extraction site in the country, it is a statistical improbability that it had nothing to do with it (earthquake) but it is absolutely scientifically impossible to prove that it did,” Barbee attempted to connect the proximity of the fracking activity to the earthquake’s epicentre.
The possibility of ruptures and other communication between these sub-surface resources like coal and shale is also much more likely to cause leaks that can impact the environment negatively, he pointed out. “If I was in charge of the biggest gas extraction facility like that 3km from the epicentre of the biggest earthquake in the region, I will be very much worried about the integrity of my well structure.”
The denial by the Botswana Government of the possibility that fracking could be the cause of the recent earthquake is not helped by the shroud of secrecy surrounding mining operations including prospecting for coal bed methane (CBM) in the CKGR and the government’s initial denial that fracking was taking place in Botswana at all.
In 2015 however, Jeffrey Barbee and Mira Dutschke released a film called ‘The High Cost of Cheap Gas” which exposed the secret roll-out of gas developments in Southern Africa. The film and its revelations were published in the UK Guardian and outlined drilling plans in Botswana. It revealed how companies had been using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in protected areas like CKGR for five years, exploring for high gas returns from Botswana’s coal layers. At the time, the Government of Botswana denied that there were any fracking activities in the country. After Barbee and Dutschke’s exposé, the government finally conceded that there were some companies that were undertaking fracking activities in the CKGR area.
In a statement issued by the Office of the President, the government announced that “Permission has been given in some instances in the past for the use of industrial explosives in sub-surface fracturing, which some may view as a type of fracking.’’
One of the companies that were granted a permit in the CKGR is Australia’s Tlou Energy which, in 2015 appointed among its Directors Gabaake Gabaake as Head of Business Development & Government Relations following his departure from the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources where he was Permanent Secretary. The ministry oversees provisions of mining and prospecting licenses and environmental impact assessments.
The admission by the Botswana government that fracking operations have taken place in the country validated the revelations uncovered by Barbee and Dutschke’s film.
In their 2015 Annual Report, Tlou Energy reveal that the company was awarded five prospecting licenses (PLs) in July 2014. The permits, internally referred to as the Mamba permits, were issued by the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources.
The report further states that the Mamba permits are considered to be highly prospective as they are situated adjacent to Tlou’s Lesedi CBM Project. Coincidentally, the USGS in their latest calculations determined that the tremor which shook much of the sub region last week is under the gas well drill sites where Tlou Energy operates.
Barbee and Dutschke’s 55-minute documentary, which exposed for the first time incidents of fracking in approximately 121 areas in Botswana, also exposed that the Government of Botswana had secretively given prospecting licences to the companies without consulting the residents of the affected areas, the Basarwa.
According to the film, South Africa’s SASOL, Australian-based Tamboran Resources, Anglo American, Tlou Energy, Kalahari Energy, Exxaro and many more were drilling for Coal Bed Methane (CBM) without any public consultations, particularly important given the serious threats these large scale developments pose to the environment and communities.
It was only a week after the story broke that the Botswana government admitted that fracking had taken place and that 121 concessions had been granted over large areas of land. In an Interview with The Ferret (an investigative journalism magazine), Barbee said there is no doubt that Kalahari Energy and other exploration companies were involved in fracking. David Eaton, a professor of geophysics at the University of Calgary, Canada has also determined, in his 2016 Science journal, how in Canada a direct causal link between hydraulic fracturing and earthquake was detected. His findings have been supported by scientific literature to the point that even major US oil and gas producing States such as Oklahoma have recently closed dozens of wells.
The Minister of Tourism and Environment, Tshekedi Khama told The Botswana Gazette that he was not aware of any fracking in the country. He also maintained that he did not believe it was true that the earthquakes were connected to the reported fracking activities.
“We have never seen anything like that before related to fracking and it will be amazing to find out, the reports are just South Africa trying to divert and put pressure somewhere,” Tshekedi said, insinuating that South Africans were trying to divert attention from their current internal debacles.
Directors of Tlou Energy had dismissed reports about fracking activities during a media tour of their sites, labelling them as “smear campaigns’” by international media. The company had stated that at its site in Moiyabana they were still prospecting while Kalahari Energy had said that their fracking activities were environmentally friendly.