Africa

Goldman Prize for South African anti-fracking warrior

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Media captionJonathan Deal: "Everything about fossil fuels is unsustainable"

A South African anti-fracking campaigner is one of six winners of this year's Goldman Prize, a prestigious environmentalist award.

Fracking is a controversial technique of pumping high pressure fluids into shale rock to recover gas and oil.

Jonathan Deal has campaigned to protect the Karoo, a semi-desert region renowned for its natural beauty.

South Africa last year lifted an 18-month ban on fracking but no work has started yet.

One study has found the Karoo could hold enough gas to supply South Africa for 400 years.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) , the area of about 400,000 sq km (154,440 sq miles) in the south-west of the country is home to what could be one of the largest deposits of shale gas in the world.

The awards, sometimes known as the Nobel prize for the environment, will be presented at a ceremony in San Francisco.

Mr Deal said the Goldman Prize came as a welcome surprise when he was told in November that he was going to be a recipient of the prize, which includes the cash award of $150,000 (£97,872).

"I've already started spending it in anticipation of receiving it," the Goldman Prize winner, who has dipped into his retirement savings to finance his campaign, told the BBC's Newsday programme.

"It has allowed me to pay somebody like our chief researcher… a salary for the first time in two and a half years," he said.

'Marketing rhetoric'

Mr Deal, the author of the book Timeless Karoo, began his campaign in 2011 when he read a newspaper article about oil company Shell's plans to apply for exploratory permit to drill for natural gas in the Karoo.

The Goldman Prize jury said that "with no prior training in grassroots organising", he immediately set up a Facebook group to educate the public about the risks of fracking, which requires large quantities of water not available in the Karoo.

With an active membership of 7,000, they then formed the Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG).

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Image caption The Karoo is known for its agriculture, beauty and wildlife

As its chairman, Mr Deal led a "dedicated team of scientists, legal experts and volunteers" to prepare a report which led the government to impose an 18-month moratorium on fracking.

"The team also supported Deal in going head-to-head with Shell executives in public meetings and in the media, challenging them to debate the merits of fracking," the Goldman Prize statement said.

"The Karoo is sparsely populated so it's easy to gain the impression that nothing happens there; in fact it is a bustling community," he told the BBC.

The moratorium came to an end in September, allowing for exploration to go ahead - although the government says no fracking will be allowed yet.

"I can see wholesale destruction of the environment not just in South Africa, but across Africa and globally due to fracking," Mr Deal said if oil companies were allowed to continue.

"Oil and gas companies are very clever at marketing their aims... they will market shale gas as a cleaner burning gas as a bridge fuel... as something that will create lots of jobs.

"They even have the audacity to use the word sustainable in much of the their marketing rhetoric - there is absolutely no place for the word sustainable in any connection with any fossil fuel at all - least of all shale gas," he said.

He says part of his success may be that he is at ease taking on corporate companies - unlike other campaigners who perhaps do not like wearing suits and ties.

"[But] when I'm moving around the Karoo communities my favourite garb is a T-shirt that says 'Get your fracking hands off our Karoo.'"

Other winners of the 2013 awards were:

Rossano Ercolini, Italy: An elementary school teacher who began a public education campaign about the dangers of incinerators in his small Tuscan town that grew into a national Zero Waste movement.

Azzam Alwash, Iraq: returned to the country from the US to lead local communities in restoring the once-lush marshes that had been allowed to dry out under Saddam Hussein's regime.

Aleta Baun, Indonesia: organised local villagers to occupy marble mining sites in order to prevent the destruction of sacred forestland on the island of Timor.

Kimberly Wasserman, US: led a local campaign to shut down two of the nation's oldest coal-fired power plants and transform Chicago's old industrial sites into parks and multi-use spaces.

Nohra Padilla, Colombia: organised Colombia's marginalised waste pickers, in the face of political opposition and threats of violence, in order to make recycling a legitimate part of waste management.

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