Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Shell promises to incorporate environmental concerns in Karoo plan

Energy giant Shell said on Monday that all concerns raised over the envisaged shale gas exploration activities in South Africa’s Karoo basin would be taken “very seriously” and would be integrated into the environmental management plan (EMP).

Shell communications vice-president Phaldie Kalam told Engineering News Online that two of the most common concerns that were raised after the first week of consultations included the security of the area’s underground water source and the protection of shallow fresh water aquifers.

Afrikaans weekly newspaper Rapport reported that community members, including South African business tycoon Johann Rupert, raised concerns around the processes that would be used in an area with extremely sparse water resources.

Kalam acknowledged that the energy industry was one of the largest industrial consumers of fresh water, but emphasised that Shell was looking for innovative ideas to reduce the amount of fresh water used in processes such as fracturing. “We are engaging in research programme to reduce our water footprint in unconventional gas development.”

As far as contamination of the Karoo water source was concerned, Shell expected that thousands of meters of rock would separate the natural gas formations from the shallow groundwater and aquifers, thus reducing the risk of contamination.

Further, Kalam noted that Shell would install protective steel casings embedded in cement, which were especially designed to protect fresh-water aquifers. “These barriers help to contain the fracturing fluid and, along with the depth at which we fracture, prevent any fluid from mingling with water sources in shallow aquifers closer to the surface.”

He added that the group successfully operated similar projects in other areas of the world, particularly in North America.

Shell had submitted an application for three exploration licenses in the Karoo, covering a 90 000 km2 area.

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