Business Day – Fracking exploration must wait 


LETTER: Exploration must wait

JULY 25 2013, 00:00
Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu.  Picture: GCIS

Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu. Picture: GCIS

IT IS exactly the spectre of “uninformed and possibly costly decisions” that demands a firm hold on any decision to issue exploration licences for shale-gas development in South Africa.

Gavin Keeton’s evident support for shale gas is somewhat undermined by what could be perceived as incorrect assumptions and incomplete information (No time to waste in South Africa’s shale-gas exploration, July 22).

It was the International Energy Agency which in June stated in the Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report that “Power generation from hydro, wind, solar and other renewable sources worldwide will exceed that from gas and be twice that from nuclear by 2016”.

Having regard for South Africa’s well-established solar irradiation potential, one would have expected that this would have been of interest to Mr Keeton in view of his concern over the country’s energy resources.

Absent too, is comment on the potential for South Africa to purchase its gas requirements from close neighbours and even develop its own offshore gas reserves.

It is a possibility that when the holistic costs of onshore shale-gas development are considered, the price per unit of purchased or developed offshore gas may be more favourable, and without the environmental and water risks associated with high-volume horizontal slick-water fracking.

Sasol, which in 2011 relinquished its application to mine shale gas in the Karoo, was unequivocal in saying the company expected drilling in South Africa to be “five to six times” more expensive than in the US: about $30m a well in South Africa.

I stand to be corrected, but as far as I know, private landowners are not in a position to deny “permission to drill”.

There is a requirement for the licensees to approach and consult with a landowner but at the end of the day a mining licence issued by the Department of Mineral Resources will triumph over the rights of the landowner.

I cannot support the statement that the “debate … is taking place in an emotional but largely uninformed fashion” simply because there is no formal debate as Minister Susan Shabangu has routinely conducted her work in secret, breaking a number of promises to consult with South Africans on this issue.

The contribution of formal groups such as Centre for Environmental Rights, Treasure Karoo Action Group and others has long been one of well-informed fact.

It would appear that ongoing and increasing resistance to shale-gas mining in the US seems to have no bearing on Prof Keeton’s support for shale gas.

It is simple to cast the call for exploration in a reasonable light, but if one considers that there is nothing to suggest that “successful” exploration would not routinely be converted into a full production licence, at the behest of the African National Congress, I believe we have established a very strong case for exploration licences to be denied at this time.

Jonathan Deal

CEO, Treasure Karoo Action Group

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