1. What is Hydraulic Fracturing?
Hydraulic fracturing, informally known as “fracking”, forms part of a complex procedure that makes it possible to extract natural gas from deep below the earth’s surface. After an exploration phase and upon discovering shale gas, a company will seek rights to move into the production phase. Once drilling has been completed, a service company moves in to carry out the hydraulic fracturing process that involves the injection of water, sand and additives at high pressures into wellbores which then fractures targeted formations underground and releases the natural gas for extraction.
2. What is natural gas?
The principal constituent of natural gas is methane, but other hydrocarbons, such as ethane, propane and butane may also be present. Carbon dioxide may also show traces in natural gas.
Natural gas can be produced in two mechanisms: biogenic and thermogenic. Biogenic gas is created by methanogenic organisms in marshes or landfills and shallow soil sediments. Thermogenic gases are found in deep geologic formations that are the result of the chemical degradation of organic materials. Just as petroleum can vary in composition, so too can natural gas – from mixtures of almost pure hydrocarbons to mixtures totally devoid of hydrocarbons.
Natural gas can be used in supplementing the provision of electricity or, if compressed, can act as a substitute to petrol and/or diesel.
3. Which companies are interested in pursuing hydraulic fracturing in South Africa?
- Royal Dutch Shell
- Falcon Oil & Gas
- Bundu Oil & Gas (bought by Sunset Energy)
Other companies having expressed interest, whether independently or in consortium:
- Sasol (Update: Withdrew application at end of 2011)
- Chesapeake Energy
- StatOil ASA
- Anglo American
- Sungu Sungu
4. In which areas do these companies seek exploration rights?
1. Royal Dutch Shell:
An area of 95 000km² in the Karoo’s Eastern, Central and Western Precent – from Dordrecht in the east to Sutherland in the west.
2. Falcon Oil & Gas:
An area of 100 000km² in the Karoo stretching from Ceres in the west to Kliplaat in the east.
3. Bundu Oil & Gas:
An area of 35 000km² in the Karoo; around Graaff-Reinet, Pearston, Somerset-East and Cradock
4. A consortium made up of Sasol, Statoil and Chesapeake Energy Corporation
An area of 88 000km² across southern Kwa-Zulu Natal, the Eastern Cape and parts of the Free State.
5. What is the current situation in South Africa with regards to the possible implementation of hydraulic fracturing in the Karoo and surrounding regions?
On 21 April 2011, the South African government passed a moratorium which suspends all applications for gas exploration in the country. Under this moratorium the Government, through the Department of Minerals and Resources, aims to carry out further investigation into the process before reaching a conclusion.
On 18 August 2011, Mining Minister Susan Shabangu extended the moratorium for a further six months to allow for public consultation on the matter.
On 7 September 2012, the moratorium was lifted to allow companies to apply for rights to carry out exploration drilling in their respective areas.