HYDRAULIC fracturing — more recently associated with the environmentally questionable extraction of shale gas reserves — has always been part of the coal bed methane industry, an earth sciences and mining expert said yesterday.
However, hydraulic fracturing or fracking is not always essential to coal bed methane production.
Coal bed methane is a form of natural gas extracted from coal beds that has in recent decades become an important source of energy, especially in the US, Canada and Australia.
Interest in SA’s coal bed methane, although in its infancy, was growing, with 25 exploration rights already awarded in SA.
Coal bed methane production was "often dependent on hydraulic fracturing to establish economically justifiable gas flow rates", according to the full report on fracking drawn up by a task team established by the Minister of Mineral Resources, Susan Shabangu.
The task team was established to investigate the controversial gas extraction method, and its full report was made available on the Department of Mineral Resources website yesterday.
"They won’t necessarily frack all over SA (to produce coal bed methane)," said Oliver Barker, founder of Banzai Geotechnics.
There had been "considerable interest" in exploring for coal bed methane since 2008, when legislation clarified that the rights to methane in coal were separate from coal, the task team noted in its report.
The "delineation" of a coal bed methane resource in Limpopo was "well advanced" and an application for production rights had been lodged in the Welkom-Virginia region of the Free State.
The report focuses on the proposed use of fracking to explore, and possibly exploit, the Karoo’s untapped shale gas reserves, estimated to be the world’s fifth-largest at 485-trillion cubic feet.
Oil and gas companies have argued that the Karoo’s shale cannot be explored to determine their economic viability without fracking. But Derek Light, the lawyer for about 300 Karoo landowners, said Prof Tony Ingraffea of Cornell University had said fracking was not an exploration tool.
Peet du Plooy, the sustainable growth programme manager at Trends in Industrial and Policy Strategies, an economic research institution, said gas from any source was a "better and cleaner" energy source than coal. SA depends on coal for more than 90% of its energy.
KPMG resource economist Rohitesh Dhawan said it was generally estimated that the technology to productively use methane as an energy source was "a decade away".
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