Fracking in the Karoo A case study in science communication

Snyders, Janus (2015-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2016

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT : The US Energy Information Administration estimates that South Africa could hold about 390 trillion cubic feet (tcf) (11 043 570 174 000 cubic meter) of shale gas in the Karoo basin. Only 5 tcf (141 584 233 000 cubic meter) thereof would be enough to meet the energy needs of 5 million households for 15 years. The South African government lifted the moratorium on shale gas exploration in September 2012 after the issuing of exploration licenses were suspended for 18 months. During this time a multidisciplinary team conducted research to gain more knowledge about the practice. After the big announcement, various media houses published the latest developments on their digital news platforms and allowed readers to comment on the issue of exploration and possible future shale gas mining activities (also known as fracturing or fracking) in the country. This thesis applied both qualitative and quantitative methods science communication methods to analyse five sets of comments from five different online news outlets to explore the perceived benefits and concerns of shale gas mining as posted by readers. The Independent Newspaper’s online (IOL) news site (www.iol.co.za) yielded 21 comments; the Mail & Guardian Online (www.mg.co.za) had 60 comments; Naspers’s News24 (www.news24.co.za) attracted 151 comments; Sowetan Live (www.sowetanlive.co.za) had 21 comments and Times Live (www.timeslive.co.za) contained 20 comments. With the normative theory, uses and gratification theory and Habermas’s public sphere as theoretical foundation, a thematic content analysis of the 273 comments revealed a correlation between the perceived benefits and concerns held by the online news readers. The main perceived benefits of shale gas mining are: 1) potential work opportunities; 2) shale gas could contribute to lowering CO2 emissions; 3) shale gas is a more affordable form of energy that South Africa needs; 4) shale gas would help with South Africa’s economic growth; and 5) shale gas is an alternative and cheaper source of energy. The main concerns are: 1) pollution of water, the environment and air; 2) bribery and corruption; 3) concerns about the intention of petrochemical companies; 4) only a small group of people will benefit from shale gas; 5) overseas companies will benefit from SA’s shale gas; and 6) some comments expressed concerns, but did not give a reason why they are concerned. The thesis suggests that the media may have in the science communication process created a moral panic about shale gas mining, and that public relations practitioners in the shale gas industry need to address the issues and concerns raised through the comments.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : Die VSA se Energie Inligtingsadministrasie beraam daar is sowat 390 triljoen kubieke voet (tkv) (11 043 570 174 000 kubieke meter) skaliegas in die die Karoo-kom verberg. Sowat 5 tkv (141 584 233 000 kubieke meter) is genoeg om in die energiebehoeftes van 5 miljoen huishoudings oor ’n tydperk van 15 jaar te voorsien. Die Suid-Afrikaanse regering het die moratorium op skalegasontginning in Suid-Afrika in September 2012 opgehef. Die moratorium wat 18 maande geduur het, is ingestel om die regering tyd te gee om die potensiële omvang van skaliegas ontginning in die land te bestudeer. Gevolglik het talle aanlyn nuuswebwerwe die nuus gepubliseer en lesers toegelaat om hulle opinie oor skaliegas eksplorasie en ontginning (ook ook bekend as hidrobreking) uit te spreek. In hierdie tesis word ’n kombinasie van kwalitatiewe en kwantitatiewe wetenskapkommunikasiemetodes gebruik om die positiewe en nagatiewe persepties van hidrobreking, wat in die vorm van kommentare op vyf nuus webwerwe opgeteken is, te analiseer. Die Independent Newspaper se IOL webblad (www.iol.co.za) het 21 kommentare opgelewer, die Mail & Guardian Online (www.mg.co.za) het 60 kommentare gehad, Naspers se News24 (www.news24.co.za) het 151 kommentare gehad; Sowetan Live (www.sowetanlive.co.za) het 21 kommentare gehad en Times Live (www.timeslive.co.za) het 20 kommentare opgelewer. Met die normatiewe teorie, gebruik- en gratifikasieteorie en Habermas se openbare sfeerteorie as grondslag vir hierdie studie, het ‘n tematiese inhoudsanalise ooreenstemmings tussen die vyf webwerwe se positiewe en negatiewe persepties getoon. Die grootste positiewe persepsies is:1) potensiële werksgeleenthede; 2) skaliegas kan bydra tot die verlaging in koolstofgas uitlatings; 3) skaliegas is ’n meer bekostigbare vorm van energie en 4) skaliegas is ’n goedkoeper vorm van energie. Daar was egter ook groot teenkanting teenoor skaliegas. Die grootste negatiewe persepsies is 1) die ontginning van skaliegas kan verskeie vorms van besoedeling, insluitend water-, grond- en lugbesoedeling, meebring; 2) die opheffing van die moratorium is gekoppel aan omkopery en korrupsie; 3) kommer oor die intensie van petrochemiese maatskappye wat skaliegas wil ontgin; 4) skaliegas gaan net ’n klein groepie mense bevoordeel; 5) oorsese maatskappye gaan voordeel trek uit Suid-Afrikaanse skaliegas; en 6) ’n paar kommentare het hulle teenkanting aangedui maar nie redes verskaf hoekom hulle dit teenstaan nie. Hierdie navorsing toon ook dat die media dalk in die wetenskapkommunikasieproses kon bygedra het tot morele paniek teenoor hidrobreking in die land en dat die verskeie persepsies oor skaliegas aangespreek moet word.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/98443
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