The Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and the Council for Geoscience (CGS) are upbeat about the prospect of shale gas in the Karoo.
“Gas formations are starting to show already,” Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe told oil and gas investors at an event in Cape Town on Thursday. He said the government supported responsible, sustainable development and that the exploration for shale gas would not be a "free for all" if the process went ahead.
“The process has faced many litigations. People have raised environmental concerns. Explorations by their nature are difficult, dirty and dangerous,” said Mantashe, but urged environmentalists to work with the department to ensure any development was sustainable.
CGS CEO Mosa Mabuza said boreholes had been drilled, while the geology was being profiled.
“We are studying our own unique circumstances of rocks, so that the techniques we prescribe for the development of shale will be informed by the facts of the kind of geological setting we are operating in.”
The CGS is involved in the Karoo Deep Drilling Project. It is a five-year geo-environmental baseline programme designed to better understand the potential impact of geo-resource exploration activities such as minerals, gas, deep groundwater and geothermal, on the Karoo geo-environment.
The project involves drilling a deep borehole down to 3 500 m, monitoring holes down to 750 m and observation holes down to 150 m. It also includes rock core and groundwater sampling.
“At this stage we are very confident about the work our team is doing on the ground and that the regulations and policy predisposition we will be advancing will be informed by the science,” said Mabuza.
“What has been unfortunate is that we had allowed detractors of shale gas development to occupy and lead the debate…and they chose a particular narrative of fracking as a very reckless technique that will contaminate the environment.”
He said techniques to extract the gas would be undertaken in a responsible way, if exploration was successful.
Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources chairperson Sahlulelo Luzipo said it would be excellent if shale gas occurrences detected in the rocks of the Karoo led to discoveries.
“The extraction of these resources would greatly assist to transform the national energy basket.”
He also called on the DMR to build partnerships with traditional leaders and civil society in the Karoo "so that courts are seen as the last resort in resolving the dispute" over potential developments.
Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said her department was working closely with the DMR on shale gas.
“As exploration continues in earnest, the Department of Science and Technology will assist with research to cover gaps in initial research, such as area geology, gas research quantification, shale gas extraction, water, waste, biodiversity, social impacts and skills development.”