South African 'fracktivist' awarded top U.S. environmental prize

SAN FRANCISCO, April 15 Mon Apr 15, 2013 3:00am EDT

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SAN FRANCISCO, April 15 (Reuters) - A late-blooming activist who helped secure a moratorium in South Africa against fracking has won a prominent U.S. environmental activism prize in California, where the debate over the oil and gas extraction technique is only heating up.

Jonathan Deal, a 54-year-old photographer and landowner in the Karoo region of South Africa, said he had to battle against the plans of Royal Dutch Shell Plc to use hydraulic fracturing in the region and secured a country-wide fracking moratorium that was lifted in September.

Despite having no previous experience in activism, or the oil and gas industry, Deal said in an interview he would keep challenging Shell to demonstrate its methods were safe.

"The onus is on the industry to prove that their plans and their technology are a benefit to the world and that it's a benign technology," said Deal, chairman of Treasure Karoo Action Group. "The onus is not on me to prove that it's dangerous. If they want to change the status quo, they've got to prove that it's a good change."

While Deal said his Karoo property was run entirely by solar power, he accepted that fossil fuels played an important part of his lifestyle. His argument was against drilling deeper in areas short of water, or environmentally sensitive areas such as the Arctic.

"What I'm kicking against is extreme extraction and extreme energy," he said. "They're going after extreme energy when there are viable alternatives close by that happen to be owned by somebody else."

Deal will collect his prize from the Goldman Environmental Foundation at a ceremony in San Francisco on Monday night, along with five other prize-winners from different parts of the world.

Deal said his biggest challenge was a shortage of time and money, so he hoped to use the $150,000 prize to build ties with other activists. He will travel to Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and West Virginia - all states where fracking takes place - while in the country.

Deal arrived in California as the state looks at how to regulate fracking in the massive Monterey shale and just days after a federal judge challenged the way the U.S. government awarded leases for shale acreage in the state.

He has also landed in the backyard of Chevron Corp, an oil company with headquarters just east of San Francisco, which said in December it would explore the Karoo basin along with Falcon Oil & Gas Ltd.

The other Goldman prize winners for 2013 are Azzam Alwash, who has sought to restore marshes in Iraq; Rossano Ercolini for work on waste disposal in Italy; Aleta Baun for her challenges of the mining industry in Indoesia; Kimberly Wasserman, who campaigned against dirty U.S. coal plants; and Nohra Padilla for work on recycling trash in Colombia.

The prize, created in 1990 by Richard and Rhoda Goldman to encourage environmental protection, has been awarded to activists in more than 80 countries. The 1991 winner for Africa, Wangari Maathai, went on to win the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.

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