Shale Gas

The increased use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques to produce gas from unconventional deposits has led to concerns about the impacts to local and regional air quality. South Africa has the 8th largest technically recoverable shale gas reserve in the world and is in the early stages of evaluating this resource.  It is located in three main formations in the Karoo basin, which covers 300 000 km2 of the interior of the country. This region is underlain by a technically recoverable shale gas reserve estimated to be as large as 390 trillion cubic feet (TCF) (U.S. EIA 2013), with 20 to 50 TCF recoverable over a 25 year time period. The economic value of this deposit has been estimated to range from 3.3 to 10.4% of GDP, while estimates of the number of new jobs that could be created varies considerably from 1441 to 700 000 (Econometrix, 2012; Wait and Rossouw, 2014). As an upper middle-income developing country with 28.9% unemployment (Statistics South Africa, 2015a), the potential impacts on GDP and job creation of the development of shale gas production are critical factors to consider when evaluating environmental concerns.

An analysis of the potential socio-economic impacts of shale gas development in South Africa

Yonela Tukwayo, MCom Dev Fin (2017) conducted an analysis of the potential socioeconomics of shale gas development in South Africa using a dynamic economy-wide CGE model of South Africa to evaluate the impact on jobs and the economy. Her work shows potentially negative impacts on GDP, employment, and the trade balance. These are balanced by decreases in national CO2 emissions. Look for a new peer-reviewed journal article in this space soon. Yonela was co-supervised by Tara Caetano, Researcher at ERC.

Air pollutant emissions inventory for the development and production of shale gas in South Africa

This research project created a prospective air pollutant emissions inventory for the development and production of unconventional natural gas in South Africa’s Karoo basin. The Karoo basin in South Africa is a sparsely populated and vast area, with low levels of industrial activity (Figure Below). There is currently no air quality management plan and no ambient air quality monitoring for this region. The exploration and development of unconventional natural gas operations will likely have a dramatic impact on the local population, environment, and economy (Kinnaman, 2011; Muehlenbachs et al., 2014; Steinzor et al., 2013; Vidic et al., 2013).

Air quality monitoring stations, population density, and currently existing shale gas exploration licenses for Shell, Falcon, and Sunset Energy.
Air quality monitoring stations, population density, and currently existing shale gas exploration licenses for Shell, Falcon, and Sunset Energy.

A bottom-up Monte Carlo emissions model was constructed for major categories of well development and production activities (Figure Below). The model included an assessment of nitrogen oxides (NOx = NO + NO2), particulate matter less than 2.5 µm in diameter (PM2.5), and non-methane volatile organic compound (NMVOC) emissions. NOx emissions are estimated to be 68 tons per day (± 42; standard deviation), total NMVOC emissions are 39 tons per day (± 28), and PM2.5 emissions are 3.0 tons per day (± 1.9). NOx and NMVOC emissions from shale gas development and production would dominate all other regional emission sources, and could be significant contributors to regional ozone and local air quality, especially considering the current lack of industrial activity in the region. Emissions of PM2.5 will contribute to local air quality, and are of a similar magnitude as typical vehicle and industrial emissions from a large South African city. This emissions inventory provides the information necessary for regulatory authorities to evaluate emissions reduction opportunities using existing technologies and to implement appropriate monitoring of shale gas-related activities.

Schematic flow chart for the emissions inventory methodology.
Schematic flow chart for the emissions inventory methodology.

Altieri and Stone, “Prospective air pollutant emissions inventory for the development and production of unconventional natural gas in the Karoo basin, South Africa,” Atmospheric Environment, 2016, vol. 129, 34-42

Strategic Environmental Assessment for Shale Gas Development in South Africa

Shale Gas SEA Mission Statement

To provide an integrated assessment and decision-making framework to enable South Africa to establish effective policy, legislation and sustainability conditions under which shale gas development could occur.

The SEA is underpinned by three key principles, namely:

  • Saliency: It must cover all the important issues and concerns;
  • Legitimacy: It must be grounded in transparent and participatory processes; and
  • Credibility: It must include groups of leading experts with rigorous scientific review structures implemented.

Chapter 3: Air Quality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Integrating Author: Harald Winkler, Contributing Authors: Katye Altieri, Simon Clarke, Rebecca Garland, Gerrit Kornelius, Matthew MeasAQ Infographic

Funding for the emissions inventory model provided by the Neale Trust – Conducted in collaboration with Adrian Stone.