Cape Town – The department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs is poised to assist municipalities with meeting the necessary infrastructure requirements “and related services” to hydraulic fracturing for shale gas, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Pravin Gordhan has told parliament.

DA MP Bennet Bhanga asked in a parliamentary question whether Gordhan had issued an instruction to municipalities in areas identified as having potential for shale gas production – these municipalities are in the Karoo – through hydraulic fracturing to include measures to mitigate risks. He also asked which municipalities had been issued with an instruction.

Gordhan said while no municipalities had been issued with an instruction at this stage, the department of mineral resources had issued the technical regulations for petroleum exploration and exploitation in 2013 in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act.

Enhance safe exploration

“The purpose of the draft regulations is to augment gaps identified in the current regulatory framework governing exploration and exploitation of petroleum resources, particularly in relation to hydraulic fracturing and prescribe good international petroleum industry practices and standards that will enhance safe exploration and production of petroleum,” said Gordhan.

Gordhan said any exploration would therefore be guided by the licence conditions, regulations “and any other relevant legislation”.
The minister explained that the role of his department “will be, where necessary, to support municipalities to ensure that the necessary infrastructure requirements and related services are reflected in the integrated development plans”.

An integrated development plan is a super plan for an area that gives an overall framework for development. It aims to coordinate the work of local and other spheres of government in a coherent plan to improve the quality of life for all people.

It also aims to overcome the racial divisions of business and residential areas in municipalities. All municipalities produce an IDP.

First fracking wells

One of the big companies which is seeking to explore for shale gas in the Karoo, Royal Dutch Shell, expressed concern last month that it has taken South Africa six years to grant licences for exploration after taking bids.

Shell South Africa chairperson Bonang Mohale has expressed concern at the slow pace of progress since bids were taken in 2008. Shell had committed to spending about R2.1bn on gas exploration in the Karoo, which the US Energy Information Administration says may hold up to 390 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of technically recoverable reserves.

But even if there is only 50 tcf of reserves, this will be 50 times the size of South Africa’s Mossgas project which involved just 1 tcf.

It is now expected that hydraulic fracturing exploration licences will be granted sometime next year.

Shell’s general manager upstream Jan-Willem Eggink has given some indication of where the first fracking wells would be dug in the Karoo. Eggink noted that it could be in the area north of Beaufort West “west of Sutherland and Murraysburg… it could also be in the Eastern Cape”.

He noted that if exploration licences were awarded next year, the first drilling was likely to start in about 2017.