‘Fracking not viable for now’

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Demonstrators flooded the streets of Howick during the People's Climate March.
Demonstrators flooded the streets of Howick during the People's Climate March.
Amil Umraw, The Witness

Pietermaritzburg - With fracking applications for KwaZulu-Natal already being received, researchers have said that fracking would not be viable in South Africa for another 20 to 30 years.

Last month, Rhino Oil and Gas Exploration South Africa announced its intention to explore 3,5 million hectares of land in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, affecting areas such as Ulundi, Melmoth, Pongola, Newcastle and Vryheid.

In addition, the company, which is also currently seeking rights to explore sites in the Free State and Eastern Cape, has lodged an application to explore two sites in Pietermaritzburg and its surrounds.

In total, the company is seeking rights to explore almost 7,4 million hectares in South Africa, of which more than half is in KZN.

A fracking seminar hosted by WWF-SA and the African Conservation Trust at Cedara Agricultural College yesterday saw environmental activists, community members and geologists band together against fracking in KZN.

WWF-SA unit head Saliem Fakir said Rhino was after shale gas in the main.

He said shale gas was considered an unconventional gas that had marginal resource capability, was extremely expensive and “difficult to make commercially viable”. “Shale gas extraction requires a vast amount of land to drill on. The gas is around two to three kilometres underground and stored in rocks that are impermeable, which makes it difficult to extract.

“With shale gas, you do not know how much you will get from a drilling event. You could frack 90 wells and only 10 of them might produce the amount of gas to get to the level of production you need to pay for it.”

Fakir said that to frack shale gas, one would need to apply technology mostly used in America, and which was costly.

“Operating costs are high, considering the equipment has to be imported and specialists are needed to operate them. There is also the exchange rate to factor in. It will be challenging.

“Although America has made fracking work, South Africa might only be able to cope in 20 to 30 years when technology improves and there is a viable gas market, but not now.”

WWF-SA researcher Tjasa Bole-Rentel said that besides not being viable, the exploration would be taxing on the environment, especially in KZN’s crippling drought.

“Shale extraction is very water intensive, with one fracking event using up to 20 million litres of water.”

She said that 1 000 chemicals were pumped into the water before it was injected into the ground, which could affect the human endocrine system, the sensory organs and could be carcinogenic.

Bole-Rentel said there was also water contamination to be wary of, if there was a leak or spill in the fracking event.

KZN Water and Sanitation Department compliance and monitoring deputy director Namisha Muthraparsad reassured those at the meeting yesterday that the department’s interests lay with the public.

She said South Africa was the 30th driest country in the world and water resources would be considered before any licences were granted.

• chelsea.pieterse@witness.co.za

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