The debate on fracking in the Karoo may be back on the cards after mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe told parliament that his department found pockets of shale gas there during drilling.
Mantashe was addressing a mini-plenary sitting during his budget vote on Tuesday afternoon.
Fracking in the Karoo has generated a lot of opposition from activists who fear its damage to the environment.
Mantashe said his department in September last year set out to drill a 3,500m stratigraphic hole in the Karoo to establish and test the occurrence of shale gas.
“This work also seeks to understand the geology and environmental characteristics of the area. I am pleased to share with this house that as of yesterday, we had drilled to a depth of 2,750m.
“The first pocket of gas was intercepted at 1,734m with a further substantial amount intercepted at 2,467m, spanning a depth of 55m. To date, a total of 34 gas samples have been bottled in canisters and taken to one of our laboratories for analysis,” said Mantashe.
Fracking in the Karoo had been stopped by a Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruling that the minister of mineral resources did not have the power to make regulations for petroleum exploration and production.
The DMRE had been taken to court by the Karoo Action Group, AfriForum and Karoo farmers. In 2019, the DMRE granted permits to three companies to explore for shale gas but they are not allowed to use fracking.
Mantashe further told parliament that the two gas finds, the onshore gas operation in the Free State, coupled with more prospects that are under way along SA’s western and eastern territorial waters were delivering positive signals that the country will succeed in developing the resources in line with its ocean’s economy agenda.
He, however, warned that it was not going to be a smooth way towards their goal.
“Most of the time when we make these discoveries, we get people who resist, particularly on the basis of environmental impact. And what we forget is that the most developed countries that actually attack us, to move from high carbon dioxide emissions to low carbon emission actually went through this development path and they expect us to just switch off.
“We are a developing economy and that should inform our strategy in whatever we do in developing. But our commitment to low carbon emissions is unwavering, we know that it is going to be a journey, that’s why we talk of a transition, it’s just a transition. It is not going to be moving from one extreme to another,” said Mantashe.