Mar 13, 2012
Shale gas could boost economy, but risks should be assessedBack
Engineering|Africa|Exploration|Gas|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)
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...
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
South African State-owned defence industrial group Denel has announced its fourth consecutive year of profits. The group's results for the financial year 2013/2014 were recently announced at its head office in Centurion, south of Pretoria. Revenues grew by 17%, net...
There is little opportunity for JSE-listed infrastructure company Group Five to grow shareholder value in the domestic market, says CEO Mike Upton. He says value can still be found in the private sector, in the renewable and industrial power sector, as well as in...
The National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa) has announced the event dates of the 2015 Johannesburg International Motor Show (JIMS). The event will take place from October 14 to October 25, 2015, at the Johannesburg Expo Centre, Nasrec.
UK engineering support services provider Babcock is set to deliver the largest order of global truck manufacturer DAF’s truck tractors in Southern Africa to bulk carrier road-based logistics company Ngululu Bulk Carriers (NBC), with 133 trucks to be delivered in...
Digital radio communications in the African local government space can open up the world, but have many challenges to overcome, notes integration and migration of legacy radio communications infrastructure with digital mobile radio company Emcom Wireless head of...