Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) could be a “game-changer” for South Africa’s economy, Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) VP Professor Barney Pityana said on Thursday.
Addressing delegates at a national shale gas conference, hosted by ASSAf in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology, in Port Elizabeth, he said fracking also had the potential to make a major contribution to South Africa reaching its commitments in terms of climate change, by limiting the country’s reliance on coal as an energy source.
Limiting the country’s reliance on importing oil in an increasingly uncertain global climate, he added, was also crucial.
“The development of diverse sources of energy is critical for any developing economy. South Africa is dependent on oil and gas imported from a variety of countries. Such dependence carries risks, including the uncertainties of the market and the political situations in an ever-changing world,” he noted.
Pityana pointed out that South Africa had considerable shale gas reserves in the Western, Northern and Eastern Cape, adding that there were economically viable and advanced extractive technologies available for South Africa to develop a fracking industry.
“Nonetheless, the extraction and development of the industry must be undertaken with caution,” he cautioned.
Pityana noted that the concerns around fracking included the potential effect on underground water resources in an already water-scarce country and the negative effect on the environment, including human habitation and the habitats of plants and wildlife.
“All science development often has an element of risk and uncertainty. Scientific discovery, by its nature, carries considerable risks. Part of the expertise of science is to manage those risks,” he said.