Gas is key will play a in increasingly important role in  South Africa’s energy mix, said Western Cape Government Director: Energy and Green Economy Dr Jim Petrie.

Speaking at the Fossil Fuel Foundation (FFF) Coal, Energy and Sustainability Conference in Cape Town on Thursday, Petrie said that while the shale gas resource in the Karoo is the fifth largest in the world there are ‘too many uncertainties’ related to fracking and exploiting the resource (18-32million trillion cubic feet).

Coal is vital

Anti-fracking groups and delayed government regulations and permits has stifled the plans of producers like Shell, which would be the main operator in the Karoo if shale gas fracking were to be given the green light.

In light of the heated fracking debate on whether shale gas can be exploited sustainably, Petrie, said the continued use of coal is vital going forward despite the concerns over the carbon footprint concern related to fossil fuel.

Coal country

South Africa boats 70% of Africa’s coal reservesand with coal accounts for 94% of South Africa’s energy production.

Petrie promoted the use of South Africa’s coal resources to support the transition to a sustainable energy future. To this end, He said that clear policy signals around gas in South Africa’s energy mix should be developed by government.

Game changer 

“We know so little about what is going on. Understanding the shale gas extraction process is absent in the debate,” said Dr Kevin Winter of the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at the University of Cape Town.

Winter said water is a game changer in the shale gas extraction process and is of critical concern as it relates to consumption, contamination and management of the resource by  shale gas producers.

Water deficit area

“The Karoo is a water deficit area, so water becomes a critical issue…Water use is mostly in early stages of the process used in fracturing of rocks.”

Winter highlighted the exorbitant amounts of water used in the process, which stands at an average of 20 million litres for one well in a process that could be repeated up to 20 times.

With 95% of surface water resources already allocated for industries such as agriculture and forestry as well as for consumption, water availability for fracking in the Karoo definitely becomes a ‘ game changer’ argued Winter.

He said water ultimately should determine whether fracking in the Karoo takes place or not.

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