In a grassland dotted with grazing herds of wildebeest, black-maned lions prowl the fringes and meerkats scurry around in the undergrowth. This is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park, a vast protected area of 3.6 million hectares (8.9 million acres) that spans two countries. But it turns out that one of those nations – Botswana – in which three quarters of the park resides, has secretly sold off fracking rights for more than half of the reserve, reports the Guardian.
Translated as “place of thirst,” Kgalagadi straddles between both South Africa and Botswana, encompassing large parts of the Kalahari Desert as a mosaic of sand dunes, scattered grasslands, and the odd tree. Water rarely flows on the surface, and is instead found beneath the ground under the old, dry riverbeds. And yet, it turns out that last year the government of Botswana sold off fracking rights for around half of the park to a U.K.-registered company. While park officials say that no drilling has taken place within the boundaries of the park, evidence has been found that suggests otherwise.
Fracking, known by its full name as “hydraulic fracturing,” has become a highly controversial and polarizing subject. Hailed by many in the oil and gas industry – and many governments to boot – as a cheap and (relatively speaking) carbon-light source of natural gas, it is being pushed in many places as a replacement to the more industry-heavy and carbon-polluting fossil fuels such as coal. But the process, which sees a cocktail of water and chemicals injected under high pressure into shale rock around 1,800 – 3,000 meters (6,000 – 10,000 feet) below the surface to free up trapped bubbles of natural gas, has many critics.
The main argument against the practice is the danger it poses to underground water sources. It is claimed that the fracking fluid can contaminate aquifers, tainting them with potentially harmful chemicals and making them unsafe to drink. These assertions have been highly rejected by the shale gas companies responsible for fracking, who claim that the process takes place way below any aquifers. The research from both sides of the debate is being constantly refuted and denounced.
Regardless of which side is right, the Botswana government seems to have gone ahead anyway, without anyone’s knowledge, not even those who are managing the park, it seems. From both the South African and the Botswana side, the managers expressed surprise to the news that this deal had been made. But this isn’t the first time that Botswana has been caught out with fracking. Two years ago, the Guardian revealed that the country had been granting licences for fracking to take place in other National Parks, namely the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
[H/T: The Guardian]