SKA may scupper fracking plans

2012-05-29 22:40

Johannesburg - South Africa's winning the rights to host the bulk of the world's biggest radio telescope looks set to clash with plans to use the high-pressure pumping method fracking, which can cause earth tremors, to extract gas from its vast shale deposits.

Last week, South Africa won the rights to locate about 70% of the "Square Kilometre Array" (SKA), a $2bn project capable of detecting signs of extraterrestrial life in the far reaches of the universe.

The project will bring the construction of more than a thousand highly sensitive receptors spread across hundreds of kilometres of arid terrain in the Northern Cape province.

The area is subject to an astronomy law that prohibits activity interfering with star gazing, which could include hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" - where drillers blast large amounts of sand and water laced with chemicals deep underground to free natural gas and oil from shale deposits.

"There is no decision by government on that [fracking]. We must understand the science before any licence is given, but I will use the astronomy advantage act if necessary," Science Minister Naledi Pandor told a news conference last week.

The Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act of 2007, meant to bolster South Africa's bid for the array, gives the Science Ministry a mandate to cut down trees, re-route air flights, silence radio signals and prohibit anything that harms astronomy in the region.

The area is home to gas reserves now being investigated by energy company Royal Dutch Shell and petrochemical group Sasol.

According to an initial study commissioned by the US energy information administration, South Africa has 485 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas resources, most of which are located in the Karoo Basin.

The amount is the fifth largest of 32 countries included in the study and is pitched as a long-term solution for the energy problems of Africa's largest economy.


"The SKA will be situated in our licence application area," Janine Nel, a spokesperson for Shell South Africa Upstream, said.

"We will comply with legislation in this regard and ensure that any future exploration activities we may undertake respect these regulations."

Environmentalists and other critics say fracking, which has made available major new unconventional sources of gas and transformed the US energy sector, can cause earth tremors and contaminate water. The process is banned in several countries.

Independent energy industry analyst Chris Yelland said South Africa is committed to the telescope project and it is up to scientists and engineers to see if fracking can co-exist with it.

"No one can give a definitive answer at this point on whether it is possible," Yelland told Reuters.

About a year ago, South Africa imposed a fracking moratorium on oil and gas exploration licences in the semi-arid region to gain time to examine the concerns of environmentalists who say the process would ruin the area and to study the potential gains.

Energy Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

The telescope project will take years to build and the government appears in no rush to see how it will apply its astronomy law on mining and fracking.

When completed in 2024, the telescope will be made up of 3 000 dishes, each 15m wide, together with many more antennae, that together will give a receiver surface area of a square kilometre.

The bulk of the project will be in South Africa and partner African countries. Australia and New Zealand also won the rights to host a smaller portion of the project.

Scanning the sky 10 000 times faster and with 50 times the sensitivity of any other telescope, it will be able to see 10 times further into the universe and detect signals that are 10 times older.

Read more on:    shell  |  ska  |  naledi pandor  |  astronomy  |  science  |  environment

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


Watch: 2015 Absa Cape Epic route

The route of the 2015 Absa Cape Epic has been announced and it promises to be as challenging as ever!


Where were you when you last felt alive?

4 exercise excuses and how to beat them
Watch: Insane road bike skills!
The most extreme journey ever?
Red Bull Lionheart trail run - not for the fainthearted!

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]


Houses R 2 845 000


Houses R 8 900 000

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now! - shop online today

Save up to R1000 on Hisense smartphones!

View the large range of Hisense smartphones. Buy today and save up to R1000!

Deal of the week!

Save R1200 on the Samsung 48” smart full HD LED television now only R8799. Buy now!

Toys 4 for the price of 3

Buy 4 toys and get the cheapest FREE! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing prices – As seen on TV

Get mind blowing prices on 1000’s of products! Shop now.

Save 20% on Nivea beauty products!

Buy any two Nivea beauty products and save 20%. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25


There is a tendency to focus too intently on outer appearance and beauty which hides who you really are. You are being more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.