Controversial shale gas can be found all the way from Bhisho to Cradock

SEPTEMBER 14, 2016

Shale gas exploration in the Karoo may be a contentious and controversial issue, but South Africans – especially in and around the Karoo – may just have to brace themselves for what appears to be an inevitable move.

Researchers – including those at NMMU – have, through countless studies, been looking into the feasibility and benefits of shale gas exploration, with a multimillion rand study reportedly showing that shale gas can be found all the way from Bhisho to Cradock.

In keeping with the national conversation, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) is hosting the South African Academy of Engineering (SAAE) lecture titled “Karoo Dilemmas: Prospective Shale Gas Development in the Karoo – What is the Outlook?”

Set to be delivered by NMMU Geosciences lecturer Professor Maarten de Wit, the talk will encourage conversation on various issues, including the state of readiness for South Africa to venture into shale gas exploration.

Prof De Wit said the talk will also look into the receiving environment of the Karoo in terms of its geological, environmental and broader social context, “which is unique, both internationally and within South Africa”.

“The talk will . . . encourage [an] ‘are we ready?’ discussion that locates the ongoing process and broader shale gas debate in the historical context of South Africa’s hydrocarbon legacy, as well as the more contemporary socio-economic context and energy imbalances across southern Africa, at a time when there is a dire need to overcome insufficient local technical capacity and lack of social trust to ensure that shale gas might become a positive game-changer,” he said

Prof De Wit is known for defining a trans-disciplinary field of research – that links science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and the humanities – as a completely new discipline termed Earth Stewardship Science.

According to Prof De Wit, whether South Africa goes ahead with shale development or not revolves around regulatory and legislative reforms that are strongly connected to a complex mix of competitive issues that include:

  • The role of government in advocating gas development to meet energy needs and climate-change challenges;
  • The role and conducts of environmental evaluations prior to and during the development;
  • The separation and redistribution of ownership of land and resource rights;
  • The role of local communities and human rights;
  • The role of civil society and the extent of public participation in the decision-making process and transparent access to information;
  • The role of risk analysis and the trade-offs between human and natural capital systems;
  • The role of science and engineering readiness; and
  • The role of universities to facilitate and nurture new transdisciplinary capacity building to address such highly interdependent, globally networked issues that we do not understand well, and which are vulnerable to failure. 

The talk will take place at the New Science Building auditorium, on Mongoose Road at NMMU South Campus this evening at 5:30pm.

Image: NMMU Geosciences lecturer Professor Maarten de Wit, who will be delivering the South African Academy of Engineering lecture at the New Science Building this evening.