The South African government, through the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), instituted a moratorium on shale gas exploration until evidence-based data and information on the potential impact of shale gas exploration, particularly on the environment, are available.
The Council for Geoscience (CGS), an entity of the DMRE, is conducting geoscientific research in the Karoo Basin to development a geoenvironmental baseline model which will influence the regulatory requirements for shale gas exploration and exploitation activities in the country.
The research is being conducted in an area that has been earmarked as a shale gas “sweet spot” in Beaufort West, Western Cape Province. To this end, CGS has conducted baseline studies, including geological and geophysical mapping, at regional and local scales. Continuous monitoring mechanisms for groundwater and seismicity have been put in place. Comprehensive environmental screening to ensure environmental soundness has been completed.
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With the baseline studies having characterised and enhanced our understanding of the geology and the environment, the study has begun to delve into subsurface geological dynamics by drilling five shallow observation boreholes to a depth of 169 m and two semi-deep monitoring boreholes to depths of 517 m and 1 402 m, respectively. This work has enhanced our understanding of shallow and semi-deep groundwater dynamics above and below the dolerite sills, respectively.
Two of the shallow observation boreholes which proved to be particularly high yielding were donated to the Beaufort West Municipality in February 2018. At the time, the Western Cape Province was being ravaged by one of the most severe droughts in recent history.
The two boreholes, with a combined capacity of 33 million litres of water per month, continue to bring much needed relief to the community. To date, the municipality has extracted and distributed well over 397 million litres of water.
Research provides valuable information
The KDD project has now commenced with the drilling of a 3 500 m ultra-deep vertical stratigraphic research borehole. The data from this research borehole will add valuable information on the subsurface geology of the area, particularly the complex dolerite network in the area and its implications in respect of groundwater and hydrocarbon potential.
The borehole is envisaged to intersect the carbonaceous shales of the Whitehill and Prince Albert Formations of the Karoo Supergroup thereby enabling an assessment of their hydrocarbon potential. Results from the borehole study will aid our understanding of the brackish water at depth and provide insight into preventing the contamination of fresh water during exploration activities.
The information emanating from this research will also underpin the formulation of an evidence-based regulatory framework that will lay the groundwork for shale gas development in South Africa. Successful and environmentally prudent shale gas development in South Africa will pave the way for a Just Transition to a low carbon economy.
Moreover, energy security and will have a significant impact on the country’s economy. In 2010, the United States Energy Information Administration proclaimed that the Karoo Basin in South Africa has technically recoverable shale gas resources in the order of 485 trillion cubic feet (Tcf). Renewed interest by energy companies has therefore resulted in applications for exploration licences and technical cooperation permits.