Fracking in Karoo gets a R108m injection

Energy generation in the Karoo before fracking. Image credit: Mike Hutchings/Reuters.

Energy generation in the Karoo before fracking. Image credit: Mike Hutchings/Reuters.

The R108-million investment in shale gas research, announced in Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s budget speech, was “positive” and showed “government is taking time to investigate”, World Wildlife Fund for Nature’s Saliem Fakir said.

Shale gas has been touted as a way to curb climate change and reduce the world’s reliance on coal, but has been met with opposition from civil and environmental lobby groups querying whether it is cleaner than coal, among other concerns.

To liberate natural gas –  mainly comprising methane – from shale rock, the rock must be hydraulically fractured or “fracked”. This involves chemicals pumped into rock fissures at pressure, and then recovered for processing, with some of this liquid remaining in the ground.

South Africa has about 119-trillion cubic metres in technically recoverable, but not proven, reserves of natural gas in the Karoo basin. The government is eager to exploit this resource; exploration licences could be awarded from July this year. The investment “signals … [government is] beginning to be more cautious than they were before”, Fakir said.

Although Nene said “innovation and technology change are at the heart of [the country’s economic development] strategy”,  science and technology got few mentions in his budget speech.

The department of science and technology – which co-ordinates research in South Africa and oversees the National Research Foundation, South Africa’s main disburser of postgraduate funding – saw its budget increase from R6.48-billion in 2014-2015 to R7.48-billion in 2015-2016, R7.56-billion in 2016-2017 and R7.61-billion in 2017-2018. The department’s budget has increased steadily since its formation in 2002.

Lus for more? Read the original at the Mail & Guardian.

Sarah Wild

Sarah Wild is an award-winning science journalist. She studied physics, electronics and English literature at Rhodes University in an effort to make herself unemployable. It didn't work and she is now the Science Editor at the Mail&Guardian. Sarah writes about particle physics, cosmology and everything in between. In 2012, she published her first full-length non-fiction book Searching African Skies: The Square Kilometre Array and South Africa’s Quest to Hear the Songs of the Stars. In 2013, she was awarded overall winner of the Pan-African Siemens Profile Awards for excellence in science journalism.

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