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Human “polar bear” decries shale gas fracking in S.Africa

Environmental activist Lewis Pugh, known as “the human polar bear” for his swims in icy water, on Friday slammed plans to drill for shale rock gas deposits in the arid central South African Karoo.

“Fracking is not sustainable. The time and the era of fossil fuels is over,” he told the Cape Town Press Club, referring to the method to release gas deposits trapped in shale rock.

“We can survive without gas, we simply cannot survive without water.”

Exploration rights for gas deposits in the vast, dry Karoo desert are being eyed by several companies including Anglo-Dutch giant Shell, sparking a local anti-drilling backlash over environmental fears.

“Shell have a shocking record here in Africa — you only have to look at what happened in Nigeria,” said Pugh, who has swum at the North Pole and in a glacial lake on Mount Everest to highlight effects of climate change

Seen as a means to release untapped energy sources, hydro-fracturing involves pumping water, sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure to break out gas from the rock but is controversial.

On Wednesday, French lawmakers in the lower house of parliament backed a ban on the method, a day after scientists in the United States said methane leaks were contaminating drinking water near drilling sites.

“I believe that this case is going to court. I firmly believe that Shell is not going to win this case,” said England-born Pugh, a maritime lawyer who studied in Cape Town and Cambridge.

South Africa has put a moratorium on all new shale gas applications and on any decision to current applications while a study is under way.