Fracking the Karoo for natural gas may not be the solution to South Africa’s electricity shortfall. The so-called energy boom, which fracking could potentially bring to South Africa’s economy, if given the go-ahead, is likely to be short lived. This is according to Arthur Chien, CEO of Talesun Energy, who says that should fracking become the norm in South Africa, the long-term repercussions on the economy as well as the effect on the environment and public health, may be staggering, not to mention the potential clean-up costs that will fall on taxpayers for decades to come.
Chien says that in order to liberate South Africa’s reliance on coal for 95% of its electricity generation, Eskom’s focus should rather be on sustainable energy solutions. “If the same amount of buy-in from the government and the private sector is invested in PV solar energy, as is being considered for fracking the Karoo for energy, and if the same amount of capital and planning is invested, the energy outlook for South Africa can have a more secure future.”
He says that renewable energy sources, such as PV solar energy, can significantly change the country’s energy mix and points to a report by Frost & Sullivan which compares solar PV to other energy sources. The report reveals that solar PV will be the most cost effective method for generating technology in South Africa by 2020. “Compared to the extraction of natural gas through the use of fracking to obtain energy, energy from PV solar modules is not only a more affordable method of energy generation, but it is more practical in that it requires less effort, it is not harmful to the environment, it is more reliable and affordable, and is readily available.
“Unlike all the earth’s resources, which are limited and will eventually be depleted, PV solar is a more sustainable solution as the country is able to receive abundant amounts of sunshine.”
Chien says that South Africa needs to take into account why there is increasing global civil unrest in Latin America, Europe, Australia and the US towards fracking and says that there are many reasons for the resistance against fracking. “The environmental impacts are shocking. Once water is used for fracking, it is lost to the water cycle forever.”
He points to a recent study by researchers at Duke University, who found dangerous levels of radioactivity and salinity at a shale gas waste disposal site that could contaminate drinking water. “Fracking brings with it the probability for spills, blowouts and well failures that may potentially contaminate groundwater supplies and can have negative effects on the health of residents and livestock in surrounding areas.
“Fracking may also have an impact on public infrastructure and going forward. For example, it could cause demand for new water infrastructure as the process requires immense amounts of water.” In addition, he refers to research conducted by Environment America, the truck traffic required to transport water to a fracking well inflicts as much destruction to local roads as nearly 3.5 million car trips. The state of Texas paid $40 million damage caused to roads and the estimated $265 million for road repairs in Pennsylvania.
“To build a healthier energy future that is centred on clean, safe, renewable sources of power that are used efficiently, governments need to invest in renewables such as PV solar, as it is a method which we can obtain energy without harming the planet.
“Energy efficiency and renewable energy should be the one of the country’s top priorities as these methods are the cleanest and inexpensive solutions to South Africa’s electricity supply shortage,” he concludes.