The Eastern Cape Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT) and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) said this week that their baseline study on shale gas aimed to put to bed evident uncertainties as South Africa moved to exploit its shale gas resources in the Karoo.
The department and university in December embarked on a three-year R16-million technical evaluation and socioeconomic analysis of shale gas in the Eastern Cape.
“Whether one is for or against the exploitation of shale gas, it is critical to find out more about the characteristics of South Africa’s shale gas resource and conduct a risk analysis on its extraction,” said NMMU earth stewardship science research institute head and project coleader Professor Maarten de Wit at an intergovernmental shale gas dialogue on Tuesday.
Despite being a potential economic “game changer” for the Eastern Cape, serious concerns had been raised over the possible environmental impact of mining the deeply buried shale in the Karoo.
“Fundamental issues in both scientific and social arenas cannot be addressed with confidence in light of insufficient scientific knowledge about shale gas and its potential extraction,” he explained.
However, De Wit believed the study would determine the amount of shale gas based in the Karoo and how much of it could be extracted.
It would also determine the impact of exploitation of the gases on groundwater reserves, agriculture and ecosystem services, besides others, and whether there would be positive socioeconomic spin-offs, he said.
Whether there would be a “notable impact” on closing the gap between the rich and poor across the Karoo and beyond would also be examined, De Wit added.
It was estimated that between 20-trillion and 485-trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas was in the region, boasting a potential return of between R1-trillion and R20-trillion, in addition to undetermined savings in carbon emissions.
The study would also provide advice based on the scientific and socioeconomic findings and deliver the required data for the government to frame its policy and strategic approaches to shale gas development.
The DEDEAT and NMMU held a dialogue on shale gas against the backdrop of Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa stating that the regulations on shale gas exploration were being consolidated.