Fracking in South Africa: an alternative to coal?

In June 2015, the Department of Mineral Resources gazetted regulations related to hydraulic fracturing or fracking in South Africa offering a framework for the exploitation and exploration of shale gas. It could easily lead one to think that another step has been taken in the direction of the highly controversial question of industrial fracking in the Karoo basin.

However, the departments of Environmental Affairs, Water and Sanitation, Energy, Mineral Resources and Science and Technology have issued a joint statement launching a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for Shale Gas Development. This SEA establishes a project team which will undertake a two-year study on the possible implications of fracking on a large number of issues – from environmental to economic, including spatial planning, human health and heritage concerns. The SEA emphasises the need for further information before the start of industri-al fracking in South Africa.

This statement could be seen as another delay for applicant companies in their quest for the exploitation of the Karoo’s potential shale gas resources. Companies including Shell, Falcon and Sasol have been wait-ing since 2010 to get an exploration permit which would allow them to undertake field surveys. Indeed, even if the regulation around fracking could lead to the issuing of exploration permits, an industrial process should fortunately not start before the end of the investigation into the impact of fracking in the Karoo.