Will Shale Gas in South Africa evolve into a Dutch Disease?
GASHSA and ShaleGASSA are Karoo Shale Gas programmes linked to Earth Stewardship Science Research and Capacity Building to avoid Shale Gas in the Karroo becoming another case of a resource curse for South Africa.
What is GASH ? – Gash is an interdisciplinary Gas Shale research program run by a multinational expert task force drawn from research institutions, geological surveys and consultants. Its overall goal is to predict shale gas formation and occurrence in space and time. GASH is based in Europe, and is managed and coordinated through the Helmholtz Institute for Geosciences, Germany (firstname.lastname@example.org).
| What is GASHSA?
|| To Evaluate the Shale Gas Potential of South Africa
GASHSA is the African extension of GASH, and was initiated in 2010 to focus on the potential for unconventional gas in shales of southern Africa. It is built upon the combined technical and scientific expertise of earth scientists with extensive regional earth system and petroleum system expertise. GASHSA is coordinated through AEON─Africa Earth Observatory Network (www.aeon.org.za) at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, and is part of the flagship-status Inkaba yeAfrica program (www.inkaba.org).
| What is ShaleGASSA?
|| To Value the resource potential of the Karoo
ShaleGASSA is a collaborative multidisciplinary research and outreach/capacity-building program focussed on the technical, socio-economic and risk factors related to unconventional gas exploration and potential exploitation of this resource in the Karoo Basin of South Africa. ShaleGASSA is concerned about the welfare of the Karoo, its water resources, and about the welfare of its stakeholders, whilst at the same time considering the welfare of the nation and its need to combat poverty in rural areas and beyond; and for enabling the country to meet its carbon reduction targets.ShaleGASSA will establish and monitor ‘early warning systems’ for farmers concerned about contamination of their wells as a consequence of shale gas exploitation; and to train rural communities to manage Karoo resources such as gas, water and food security:
Karoo Shale Gas – players in the great debate:
· The energy and mining industry believes that we all will benefit if we harvest it. They argue that Karoo gas may be an economic game-changer for southern Africa, as it has apparently done in the USA, particularly during this time of socio-economic uncertainties and growing unemployment that are arguably the cause of social unrest and potential tipping points.
· Economists and Green House Gas Tax advocates are excited about the prospects of such a potential energy resource to combat climate change.
· Conservationists and landowners of the Karoo take a different view: they claim that extraction of the gas will leave massive irreparable social and environmental scars on one of South Africa’s iconic landscapes. Some of them point to possible human health hazards. They argue that we would all be better off leaving the gas in the ground.
· Poor Karoo communities, particularly in the rural districts and townships, as well farmworkers, have not yet been drawn directly into this debate as stakeholders, but they have heard about possible job opportunities – and indirect spin offs.
· Research scientists such as geologists and hydrologists are not certain about the value of any of these debates until there is more certainty about whether gas is actually there in quantities that would make its mining profitable.
How much gas is there?
It is not known with any degree of certainty how much gas may be beneath the Karoo (estimates range from 20-800 Tcf), and even if there is enough, it is also uncertain whether the gas can be tapped without damaging other subsurface resources, particularly scarce potable water reservoirs, or without full rehabilitation of inevitable surface damage around the gas taps.
Can we extract Karoo shale gas safely?
South Africa lacks young people trained with the right skills to evaluate all aspects of new important projects like shale gas exploitation and its implications. But where to begin when there is no academic infrastructure in South Africa at present that deals competently with this?
AEON will build a new infrastructure that can dynamically monitor exploration activities on a number of fronts, by means of independent research and evaluation teams. AEON intends to keep a neutral position viz. a viz. all the stakeholders and, pursue detailed analyses based on best scientific principles.
GASHSA and ShaleGASSA will enhance local expertise in Karoo Geology and Geohydrology, and grow a number of relevant pilot studies in shale gas technology, in environmental assessment studies, in business and commerce think tanks related to socioeconomic developments in the Karoo, and above all studies in geology, geophysics, geochemistry and geohydrology of the Karoo and its resources, including gas, water and food security. In ShaleGasSA, we are committed to grow an independent, university based, monitoring capacity aimed at providing data for adequate and fair protection of both small and large scale farmers, bore-hole owners, and exploration companies (in the event of compensation claims).
Capacity-building and research opportunities to grow our own expertise.
Through multipronged cutting-edge projects in Earth Stewardship Science (such as in geo-sciences, geo-engineering, ecological-economics, eco-ethics and environmental law, development studies etc.) we will train a new generation of young South African expertise in the field of unconventional energy production, water challenges, sustainable living, poverty alleviation and conflict resolution:
1. Enhance our technical knowledge of the geology, gas and groundwater reserves of the Karoo.
2. Develop baseline knowledge and open-source data-base management of ground water of the Karoo Basin in the Eastern Cape, especially related to potential contamination.
3. Facilitate adaptive capacity building through Karoo community participation in ground water monitoring, water analyses; large community buy-in for data-base sharing and decision making concerning the exploitation of shale gas; understanding the resilience of Karoo hydro- and eco- systems
4. Improve learning processes, capacity building and sharing of data for the use and interpretation of water and gas resources in the Karoo
5. Design an advanced NMMU/AEON graduate course in applied hydrogeology and shale gas exploration, and an NMMU Diploma in Ground Water Monitoring to provide a recognised qualification for local (rural) people trained in ground water monitoring and sampling.
6. Risk analysis of contaminating ground water during drilling and shale gas fracking in the Karoo.
Shale Gas Energy Boom
Shale Gas – a new source of fossil fuel shakes markets and environments
Rapid evolving extraction technology of tight gas from rock – shale – is changing the face of global energy developments, with deep impacts on conventional fossil fuel, renewables, energy financing, trade, and security.
Developments of deep horizontal drilling and fracturing technology (fracking) have allowed the recovery of natural gas from vast areas of shale formations. Huge quantities of this unconventional shale gas are now commercially viable.
The breakthroughs in fracking technology were not anticipated prior to this millennium, yet shale gas production in the USA has increased from virtually nothing in 2000 to more than 10 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) in 2010. Whilst it is difficult to predict what further technological breakthroughs we may see going forward, at present it has made the USA near self-sufficient in natural gas for the foreseeable future: shale gas production could more than quadruple over the next two decades, accounting for over 50% of total USA natural gas production by the early 2030s; its recoverable shale resource comprises more than a quarter of the world’s 4000-odd trillion cubic feet (Tcf), and is rivalled in size only by shale plays in Asia.
The production of natural gas from shale formations is dramatically altering the global natural gas market landscape. These developments have catalysed Europe, Asia and South America to also explore their own shale gas resource potential. This is putting pressure on longstanding global oil-linked gas contracts that may lead to strategic shifts, such as the weakening of Russia’s dominance in the European gas market.
Shale gas eventually makes up 20% of European market, and booming gas demand in China and India, both countries with limited domestic natural gas resources.
For a more in depth analyses of the geopolitics of natural gas see: The Geopolitics of Natural Gas Report of Harvard University’s Belfer Center and Rice University’s Baker Institute
But the final outcome of shale gas developments is still far from clear. How the shale gas revolution will stall or blossom, will depend largely on environmental issues, and how the extraction of the gas will affect the world’s other major dwindling resource: water, and help towards reduce Green House Gas emissions.
Evidence of gas leakage during production is driving a series of grassroots environmental campaigns in several countries that increase calls to ban fracking and shale gas exploitation.