Mar 13, 2012
Shale gas could boost economy, but risks should be assessedBack
Engineering|Africa|Exploration|Projects|Resources|Water|Africa|South Africa|Chemicals|Equipment|Mining|Natural Gas|Product|Shale Gas Deposit|Underground Mining Operations|Yearly Gross Domestic Product|Environmental|Danie Vermeulen|Infrastructure|Tony Twine|Water|Fracturing
© Reuse this
Speaking at a gathering of the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions at Gallager Estate, in Midrand, Vermeulen pointed out that a number of contradicting statements were being used in arguments for, and against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
“Some environmentalists tend to distort or over emphasise certain facts, while leaving out other chunks of information that does not support their agendas. On the other hand, some companies interested in operating fracking activities have also been found to distort facts in ways to support their agendas of gaining access to the gas,” he told Engineering News Online.
However, owing to the act of liberating natural gas from shale rock, entailing water, sand and chemicals being pumped deep into the earth’s crust, the risk of pollution and irreparable damage is ever present.
“The risk of extracting the gas is comparable to that of underground mining operations. With such a substantial resource of natural gas being locally available, the benefits to South Africa’s economy could be substantial,” Vermeulen said.
His comments echoed what the late Tony Twine said at the release of an economic study on fracking earlier this month. The Econometrix modelling estimated fracking could add between R80-billion and R200-billion to the country’s yearly gross domestic product if only a small portion of the speculated shale resource base was exploited. Twine, who passed away over the weekend, also estimated that between 300 000 and 700 000 upstream and downstream jobs could be generated.
Vermeulen believed that fracking in the South African context would be harmless to local groundwater supplies, owing to the fact that the activity would take place at depths of between 4 km and 5 km below the surface.
“While fracking is harmless to surface organisms and humans, we have coined a new term called ‘fracktivities’, which pose a greater threat to the wellbeing of the local environment than fracturing shale at depth,” he said.
So-called Fracktivities referred to all the surface support activities, such as boring equipment, trucks and other infrastructure associated with sinking a borehole and establishing a working gas well. “If these surface activities are not managed well, the consequences could by far outweigh the risks of fracking,” he cautioned.
While the Mineral Resources Department-imposed moratorium on the issuing of new shale gas exploration licences is due to be reviewed and possibly lifted by the end of the month, Vermeulen pointed out that commercial fracking in South Africa is still about nine years away, owing to significant exploration projects still to be undertaken, followed by detailed environmental and feasibility studies to be completed before licences would be issued to start fracking operations.
“In light of the extended timeframe before fracking becomes a reality in South Africa, one could assume that technological advances in the period could further assist to reduce environmental risks,” he said.
Further, Vermeulen pointed out that boreholes are generally sunk and the shale fractured in a relatively short timeframe, with the only visible evidence of a gas well being a pipeline leading from the well to a central storage facility. When a gas well is spent, the surface area could be fully rehabilitated, although the chemicals pumped into the earth’s crust can never be removed.
Meanwhile, he said South Africa’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope would not be affected by fracking activities, as long as these remained 30 km away from the closest sensors.
Edited by: Mariaan Webb© Reuse this Comment Guidelines (150 word limit)
Updated 6 hours ago The Standard Bank Group has been named one of the world’s greenest banks by Bloomberg Markets, ranked eighteenth out of 20 global finance institutions recognised for their investments in green-energy projects and efforts to reduce their own waste and carbon...
Updated 6 hours ago The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) was considering establishing an air quality index, to make information on the quality of ambient air in South Africa more accessible, DEA national air quality officer Dr Thulie Mdluli said on Tuesday. She noted that the...
Updated 6 hours ago In a boost for renewable energy, the City of Cape Town has signed its first small-scale embedded electricity generation contract with Black River Park Investments, an office park in Observatory. The 74 000 m2 office park uses large-scale solar power systems to...
Recent Research Reports
Road and Rail 2014: A review of South Africa's road and rail infrastructure (PDF report)
Creamer Media’s Road and Rail 2014 report examines South Africa’s road and rail transport system, with particular focus on the size and state of the country’s road and rail network, the funding and maintenance of these respective networks, and the push to move road...
Real Economy Year Book 2014 (PDF Report)
This edition drills down into the performance and outlook for a variety of sectors, including automotive, construction, electricity, transport, steel, water, coal, gold, iron-ore and platinum.
Real Economy Insight: Automotive 2014 (PDF Report)
This four-page brief covers key developments in the automotive industry over the past 12 months, including an overview of South Africa’s automotive market, trade figures, production and the policies influencing the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Construction 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the construction industry over the past 12 months. It provides an overview of the sector and includes details of employment in the sector, infrastructure and municipal spending, as well as insight into companies’...
Real Economy Insight: Electricity 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the electricity industry over the past 12 months, including details of State-owned power utility Eskom’s generation activities, funding and tariffs, independent power producers and prospects for the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Road and Rail 2014 (PDF Report)
This six-page brief covers key developments in the road and rail industries over the past 12 months, including details of South Africa’s road and rail network and prospects for both sectors.
This Week's Magazine
While Ekurhuleni-based transformer manufacturer Reliable Transformers currently designs, manufactures and tests its products according to the SANS 780 specifications for distribution transformers and other applicable transformer specifications, it is working towards...
Global endpoint security solutions company Kaspersky Lab has introduced new measures to prevent cyber criminals from accessing sensitive data, alongside its malware-signature and heuristic device analysis detection methods. Threats to mobile devices have increased...
To ensure uptake and a positive impact, Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) networks in cities must be provided at schools, community centres and commercial centres to enable citizens and government to access information that will improve access to and delivery of services....
Eco-estate Monaghan Farm, located near Lanseria airport, north-west of Johannesburg, has taken a new approach to modern living and sustainability with its 517 ha development, dedicated to farm living.
Forklift and lift-truck distributor Goscor Lift Hi-Reach launched the Genie SX-180, the tallest self-propelled super boom in Africa, in Johannesburg last month. “As the official distributor of the well-known Genie range of equipment in Southern Africa, we are pleased...