Opinion | 3 April 2017
The news that fracking has been given the go-ahead in South Africa comes as a surprise to many. The mineral resource minister made the announcement with little comment from the Department of Energy or from former Energy Minister Tina Joematt-Pettersson.
The two major focal points are: the potential repercussions to the environment and the need for shale gas to satisfy South Africa’s tight energy supply. It is a well-known fact that vast amounts of water are needed during the fracking process to extract the deeply embedded natural gas.
Spring flowers blossom in an arid landscape near Laingsburg in the Karoo. If energy companies get their way, it will soon be home to scientists and geologists mapping out shale gas fields.Photo: Reuters
The decision to approve fracking comes at a time when the Western Cape is dealing with level 3b water restrictions and facing a projection of 100 days of water remaining, if water consumption continues at current levels.
Often potable water used in fracking is hardly recyclable due to the hundreds of chemical compounds used in the process. The 19million litres of water used on average in operations are a single pass component and might not be used again in agriculture, for industrial applications or human consumption. Instead, the water is merely discarded.
An argument therefore can be made that coal is less water intensive than fracking, using 2.5 times less water per thermal unit. Adding to this is the fact that there simply is not enough water in the Karoo for the purpose of fracking as well as agriculture and human consumption.
At a time of drought, the notion of setting up a fracking industry is absurd for the Cape provinces.
Furthermore, the government’s rhetoric about diversifying the energy mix is contradictory to their stance that additional power from renewables is not necessary, as the country has excess power.
Meanwhile, the government pushes the financially crippling nuclear deal, which will see an additional capacity of 9600 MW.
Natural gas is important nonetheless; because in relative terms it produces fewer emissions than coal burning activities (about 50 percent less CO2 emissions, 72 percent less NOX emissions and 99.7 percent less SO2 emissions). It therefore has its place in this energy mix.
The Gas-to-Power Procurement Programme in South Africa has seen progress in the last year.
Read also: Fracking likely to burden small towns
Two sites, namely Richard’s Bay and Coega, have been selected to receive gas from offshore vessels, bringing natural gas from foreign sources.
The port of Coega is in relatively close proximity to the fracking sites. If shale gas does come to fruition, the purpose of Coega as a port to offload the gas comes into dispute. The Cape provinces will find themselves with natural gas sourced directly in-country, reducing costs and easing logistics.
Would Coega be turned into a natural gas liquefaction facility for export of excess gas? This would bring in further income and create jobs. Alternatively, would it lose its favourable position to land gas entirely? It remains to be seen.
The government will see staunch resistance from environmental activists if they don’t have the “mechanisms and instruments that seek to augment existing laws for the protection of water resources” as claimed by the government. As decision-makers proceed with shale gas developments in the Karoo, a trade-off must be considered: Energy security, economic benefits, and job creation on the one hand, countered by environmental responsibility and alternative options on the other.
The shale gas dilemma has become a contentious debate in South Africa, fraught with emotions and tension between industry and environmentalists. Public perception is caught in the middle.
Unfortunately, vested interest by both extremes of the argument has caused many facts to be taken out of context.
With experts on both sides of the argument, the truth is that we simply have no confirmation that shale gas can be extracted in South Africa in a manner that will not harm the environment of the Karoo. This uncertainty makes it difficult to proceed and, for decision-makers, ultimately becomes a matter of conscience.
Tilden Hellyer is an industry analyst, Energy & Environment at Frost & Sullivan.
Fracking in the Karoo is not a done deal
The Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane, during a community meeting in Richmond in the Northern Cape revealed that the South African government has decided to proceed with the development of shale gas in the Karoo.
He stated that ‘based on available scientific evidence, the government has decided to proceed with the development of shale gas in the Karoo’ and that the regulatory framework will ensure that shale gas was ‘orderly and safely developed’.
He further stated that shale gas development would “significantly reduce” South Africa’s carbon footprint and provide “cost –competitive energy security”. The minister assured local communities that they will benefit from economic opportunities.
Firstly, for the minister to make commitments to develop shale gas in South Africa without exploration having taken place to determine the extent of potential gas resources (if any) is misguided and premature.
The minister’s assurance to communities that they would benefit from shale gas development is irresponsible, as the assessments that have been concluded in South Africa indicated marginal economic benefits to local communities, while environmental and health risks have been highlighted along with the need for baseline studies and further health studies to be conducted.
While the Econometrix report commissioned by Shell indicated the creation of between 300 000 and 700 000 jobs from shale gas development – a figure routinely quoted by the South African government – the government’s own studies pointed to a possible 3000 jobs. This is a big discrepancy and an indication of the false projections routinely used to justify shale gas development in South Africa.
One further has to question the logic of committing to shale gas development within the context of the drought in South Africa, in particular the Western Cape, and the potential implications on water consumption and pollution in the arid interior of the country.
For the minister to give the South African public assurances about the safety of shale gas development and the regulatory framework that would ensure the safe development of the resource is misguided, as the very regulations were indisputably developed in a void of a national assessment of potential implications of shale gas development in South Africa and are currently subjected to a legal challenge in the North Gauteng High Court.”
South Africans shouldn’t give up hope and accept that fracking is a done deal in South Africa. No exploration rights have been issued. Moreover the present regulations and the utterances of the department of minerals ignore the unequivocal cautions sounded by two South African reports; one from the Academy of Science of South Africa (“ASSAF Report”) which deals with the technical readiness of South Africa to support the shale gas industry; and the Strategic Environmental Assessment (“SEA”) commissioned from the Council for Scientific Research by the minister of environmental affairs.
Both reports validated the concerns that TKAG and AfriForum have raised since 2011 and call for rigorous and extensive baseline testing of various environmental conditions before the Regulations on Shale Gas can even be completed, let alone any form of physical exploration take place.
TKAG and its alliance partner, AfriForum, remain committed to ensuring transparent and science-based, informed decision-making on this issue and will continue with our legal opposition to shale gas in South Africa.
– Jonathan Deal is chairman of the Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG).
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.