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Natural gas fracking could lift Africa out of poverty

Barack Obama speaks at Nelson Mandella memorial service
Barack Obama speaks at Nelson Mandella memorial service
United States Government

Bjorn Lomborg, in a February 8, 2014 oped in USA Today points out that Obama administration green energy policies have had the unintended effect of harming the world’s poor.

“Access to cheap and abundant power is one of the best ways to lift people out of poverty. Analyses show that there is a clear connection between growth and energy availability in Africa. Most spectacularly, China lifted 680 million people out of poverty over the past 30 years — not through expensive wind and solar, but through cheap, if polluting, coal.

“Nonetheless, many rich opinion leaders feel comfortable in declaring that the trade-off for cheap energy and development is not in the interest of the poor. The United States, United Kingdom and other European countries announced last year that they won't support international finance for coal-fired power plants in developing countries.”

Lomborg points out that while the world’s poor are waiting for the green energy revolution they are being forced to rely on a source of energy that is even more environmentally destructive than coal.

“This matters, because almost half the world's inhabitants or about 3 billion people burn dung, cardboard and twigs inside their houses to cook and keep warm. The consequent indoor air pollution kills 3.5 million people each year making it the world's deadliest environmental issue.”

Is there a way to bring cheap energy to the third world, with the attending benefits of light, internet access, and the ability to heat and cool homes? The Economist suggests that there is that does not involve either polluting coal or expensive renewable sources.

“THE Karoo, “the land of great thirst”, covers much of the 800 miles between Johannesburg, South Africa’s commercial capital, and Cape Town, on the country’s southern tip. The semi-desert area (pictured) is known for its arid beauty and aching poverty. But deep beneath its sheep- and ostrich-dotted expanses could lie untold wealth—in the form of natural gas.

“America’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) suspects South Africa might boast shale-gas reserves of around 485 trillion cubic feet. The gas would only be accessible by hydraulic fracturing–“fracking”–pumping water and chemicals into rock at high pressure. In April 2011, in response to opposition from environmental groups and the local community, South Africa’s government slapped a moratorium on fracking.”

That moratorium has since been lifted. However the same environmental wrangling that has attended fracking in the United States and Europe has persisted in South Africa. Fears that the water supply will be compromise are being balanced against the prospect of abundant, relatively clean, and cheap energy flowing to homes and businesses in South Africa and beyond, opening the way to an energy boom in Africa that might, at long last, lift that continent out of squalor and into the 21st Century.

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