The interest in shale gas exploration in the Karoo has faded since research showed it would not create many job opportunities quickly.
“People realised this is not something that will change their future tomorrow,” Hendrik Kotzé, who led discussions on shale gas with the communities of Beaufort West, Graaff-Reinet and Victoria West, told Rapport, the sister publication of City Press.
The discussions took place in July this year as part of the public-participation process on the scientific assessment regarding a possible shale gas project in the Karoo by the CSIR.
According to Kotzé, tensions in this round of talks were markedly lower than before.
He was also part of discussions in the same towns at the end of last year and beginning of this year, and the atmosphere was much tenser during those sessions.
On the one side were the people who are concerned about agriculture, the environment and “the essence of the Karoo”.
On the other side were those who say the Karoo is struggling and job creation is needed urgently.
Emotions ran high on both sides
The CSIR’s estimates have, however, shown that shale gas exploration in the Karoo would at the very most create only about 2 575 direct jobs.
For the local community, this means roughly between 390 and 900 unskilled and semiskilled jobs.
Kotzé said people had realised shale gas exploration was not going to meet their immediate need for work.
One of the issues that came up repeatedly at the various meetings is the “essence” of the Karoo and how it will be protected.
“People who love the Karoo have a sense of what the nature of the Karoo is. It’s not easily quantifiable.”
The researchers tried to reassure residents by pointing out that an entire chapter of the assessment report was devoted to this issue.
Kotzé said it was emphasised that this consideration could even eventually determine the decision. It will also be taken into account in the planning of infrastructure.
“There won’t be holes drilled in front of Graaff-Reinet’s church.”
Role players could also submit written comments. All comments are now considered and added, and it is expected that the final report will be available before the end of October.
The purpose of the research is not to make a decision on whether shale gas should be explored or not, but rather to establish a framework within which such a decision can be taken.
The assessment was carried out at the request of the environmental affairs department with the support of the departments of energy, mineral resources, water affairs, science and technology, and agriculture, and the provincial governments of the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape.
The CSIR coordinated the assessment, together with the SA National Biodiversity Institute and the Council for Geoscience, and incorporated the work of 135 independent scientists.
An area in the Karoo of some 171 811km², for which there are currently five exploration applications – three by Shell, one by Falcon and one by Bundu – was taken into account in the research.
Kotzé is a researcher at Stellenbosch University’s business school and was requested by the CSIR to act as facilitator.
Upon enquiry, Shell said the company didn’t submit comments, but the CSIR’s assessment would be used to extract shale gas in a responsible manner, should the gas be found.
Bundu and its Australian holding company, Challenger Energy, referred questions to the industry representative body, Onshore Petroleum Association
Falcon did not respond to requests for comment.
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