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Paul Thabane
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Hydraulic fracturing, are we there yet??

27 October 2013, 17:57

There are great problems with hydraulic fracturing. These are common problems by now in the fracturing realm, from well development to well production phase.

I have a few concerns(1) the chemicals used in the shale rock stimulation or hydraulic fracturing process can be harmful to the environment even if they make up only a maximum of 2% of fracture fluid if you consider the millions and millions of litres of the fluid used 2% is a lot(2)

We have a water problem here in South African due to droughts, and the farmers can attest to that so my question is where are we going to get the millions and millions of litres of water needed to frack the rock? How are we going to ensure that underground water reservoirs are not contaminated?

(3) The disposal of the fracking liquids after the process i.e. the water mixed with the chemical additives etc. This is not really a simple thing to do because you can't just send it to the water treatment facilities like the normal contaminated water from the sewage.

The normal practice is to drill a whole underground and inject the waste into deep underground rock openings; this has been proven to cause earthquakes. The preferred route is reusing the fluids again this is a regulation issue and in South Africa regulation is not a strong suite because there is just too much expediency to care about the consequences.

(4) This process is not entirely clean methane (which has about 21% more heat trapping power than carbon dioxide) does escape into the atmosphere during the removal of the fracture fluids before the natural gas production can begin and this worsens global warming. Even if one could say that methane is not as prevalent as carbon dioxide but how long that will last nobody is to say.

(5)  Life in the karoo will never be the same once the production process starts. This is not exactly a quiet process, there will be trucks driving up and down during the development process to bring the water, chemical additives and sand for fracking, there will be drilling night and day and also the production will last as long as there is gas to be extracted from the ground

(6) The regulation that is crucial in this whole unconventional natural gas resource extraction process is mind boggling i.e transparency required as to the selection and application of casing and cement during the well construction, the chemicals and the sand (proppant) which will be used to stimulate the shale rock and their effects on the environment, demonstrated plans for continuous improvements in the process i.e. not just trial and error and the disposal of the used frack fluids.

I am not so confident that South Africa with its lack of governance on just simple matters and the widespread corruption will be able to handle this challenge. I mean the government cannot even ensure that good quality roads are put in place or proper RDP houses to name but a few “snafu’s”.

I am by no means trying to exaggerate but I believe that inherent risks are high in this area and need to be fully identified, classified, grouped, dissected, sliced and diced, looked from all angels, mitigated so forth and so forth before we embark on this.

We as South Africans need to be involved in this process from the beginning, we need to start asking the relevant questions and not to wait for the government to force feed us lies like they did during the e-tolling process.  

Obviously there are benefits to the whole country's economy not just for the Karoo, for one thing it is "relatively" cleaner as compared to coal, if we rely less on imported energy resources we will not be so exposed and vulnerable to the world geopolitical issues from the middle east conflicts to the increase in energy demand of china and other developing countries etc.

This could lead to government savings, which "hopefully" will translate to savings for the average South African on the street. I say hopefully because the savings might land up in the coffers of the few corrupt government officials.

Our debt, deficit would reduce and all the nice things etc would happen as a result. There are also environmental benefits as well because the major part of fracking happens underground i.e. the drilling happens horizontally which means that there would be one whole visible above ground at a particular drilling site and many perforations underground to release the gas trapped in the rock and once the production process is done and proper closing procedures are followed in a couple of years you might not even be able to see that drilling took place.

Like anything in life there are pros and cons inherent in the process itself and then there is human intervention and the latter is normally the worst at times due to lack of knowledge and lack of integrity.

And lastly the devil is always in the detail.

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