OPPOSITION: Anti-fracking protesters march through central Cape Town on Friday. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
OPPOSITION: Anti-fracking protesters march through central Cape Town in October last year. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

THE Petroleum Agency South Africa (Pasa) estimates that recoverable reserves of shale gas in the Karoo are about 40-trillion cubic feet — much less than the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) estimate of 480-trillion cubic feet.

Pasa resource development manager David van der Spuy told Parliament’s energy committee on Thursday that while it seemed much lower that the initial estimate, it was still a significant resource which could be commercially exploited.

"Our best estimate is 40-trillion cubic feet," Mr van der Spuy said.

He said the EIA had revised its original estimate down to 370-trillion cubic feet and then 211-trillion cubic feet.

"The original report was part of a worldwide study looking at many countries and it was a broad-brush study with not much concentration on detail," he said.

When the EIA’s original estimate was published, it caused excitement among oil and gas groups.

Global petroleum company Shell has applied for an exploration licence in the environmentally sensitive Karoo. Several other companies — Bundu Oil & Gas, Falcon Oil & Gas, and most recently an Australian company, Challenger Energy, have also applied for licences.

In October the government gazetted draft regulations for the exploration and exploitation of shale-gas resources — covering almost a fifth of South Africa’s surface area — through the process known as fracking.

The government stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries.

In 2012, when the government announced it was lifting the moratorium on shale-gas exploration in the Karoo, Shell’s upstream GM Jan Eggink told Business Day that a find of only 50-trillion cubic feet would be commercially viable.

In comparison, Mossgas built its business on an estimated reserve of 1-trillion cubic feet.

"In Holland we have a gasfield with a reserve of 100-trillion cubic feet and that has been going for 50 years," he said.

• This article was amended on February 21. The original version abbreviated the Petroleum Agency South Africa incorrectly as PetroSA, instead of Pasa.