For one thing, landowners in the US also owned the mineral rights while in South Africa, the state owned the mineral riches. Picture: John Yeld

Durban - A hydro-geologist who has been advising communities in the Karoo on the implications of fracking argues that drilling for shale gas in the region does not make economic sense.

“The high cost of gas production in the Karoo makes the huge infrastructure investments, both from public and private sources, viable only at hugely higher energy costs,” Stefan Cramer said at his seminar held at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“I will not see fracking (for shale gas) in my lifetime,” said Cramer, who is the science adviser to the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute in Cape Town.

While renewables were getting cheaper and fossil fuels increasingly expensive, the investment climate in South Africa was also negative.

Cramer’s seminar was titled “Six reasons why the Karoo will not be fracked, if reason prevails”.

It was attended by students, environmental groups and members of the public.

He argued that as more was learnt about the geology of the Karoo, the clearer it became that too little was known about the deeper levels of groundwater and the preferential pathways along which contamination from fracking fluids could travel upwards into drinking water supplies. The second reason was that there was simply not enough water, and trucking water from outside the Karoo would be too expensive, and impractical.

“There is also simply no infrastructure,” Cramer said of the inadequate gas pipeline network and power transmission lines.

The fourth reason that fracking for shale gas did not make economic sense was that the success of the industry in the US could not be replicated in South Africa. The industry in the US depended on greedy businessmen, banks and landowners.

Cramer did not believe that this was the case here. For one thing, landowners in the US also owned the mineral rights while in South Africa, the state owned the mineral riches.

With the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act Amendment Bill on ice, it could be months, if not years, until a satisfactory legal framework was in place, he said.

The final point in Cramer’s argument was South Africa’s “very poor” investment climate and the hundreds of millions of rand estimated to be needed to create the necessary infrastructure for gas flow to consumers.

Earlier this year it was reported that according to oil company Shell, there was no certainty that fracking in the Karoo would be economically viable, and this could only be determined once exploration work was completed.

The Mercury