South Africa pushes ahead with fracing ban
Karoo basin applications already under review to escape bar
SOUTH Africa’s cabinet has backed the government’s decision to ban hydraulic fracturing (fracing) in the country. The country’s Mineral Resources Department (MRD) imposed the moratorium on shale-gas drilling in February, saying more studies must be done to assess the environmental effects of fracing.
On 21 April, the MRD said it will carry out a study into the environmental impact of fracing, working alongside the departments of trade and industry, and science and technology to conduct “full” research into the practice, which has increasingly drawn fire from environmentalists around in the world.
A government spokesman said: “The cabinet has made it very clear that a clean environment together with all the ecological aspects will not be compromised.”
South Africa’s government did not say for how long a moratorium – which does not stop existing shale-gas applications from being considered – would last. Shell’s application to drill for shale gas in the Karoo basin will continue to be processed, alongside with those of Bundu Gas and Oil, and Falcon Oil and Gas.
South Africa could have 485 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas resources, the US Energy Information Administration said recently. So far there has not been any drilling in the Karoo basin, although Shell is leading several companies hoping to explore the area, where the government has granted technical co-operation permits.
Shell submitted three exploration-licence applications for the Karoo basin last year. The three areas, in the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape provinces, covered areas of around 30,000 square km each.
In an emailed statement, Shell said the company had “noted” the shale-gas study and will “seek clarity on the full implications of the moratorium” from the government. Shell says it “supports the project and will comply with any legislation surrounding it”.
Environmental activists have welcomed the moratorium. Jonathan Deal, co-ordinator of the Treasure the Karoo Action Group, said: “Our government has the mechanisms to halt this process, until the issue has been thoroughly assessed, debated and commented on by local and international scientists.”
Deal said Shell has operated with “indecent haste” in applying for drilling rights in the Karoo basin. This, he said, had placed “undue pressure” on some ministers in South Africa to approve the applications.
The Department for Science and Technology has also raised concerns that communications systems used by fracing equipment in the Karoo basin could affect the square kilometre array (Ska) radio telescope.
The Ska is a high-powered telescope that will use radio waves instead of light waves to see into space. South Africa and Australia were picked as possible sites to build the Ska in 2006. Shell said it supported South Africa’s bid to host the Ska telescope project.