Shale Gas 101: Introduction to Water Impacts | WWF South Africa

Shale Gas 101: Introduction to Water Impacts

Posted on 26 October 2015
Shale gas report
© WWF South Africa
Shale gas is seeking to become a major player in the energy supplies of a number of countries. Although its large-scale exploitation is still concentrated in North America, particularly the US, several other countries are exploring for shale gas or ways so as to achieve its successful commercialisation. These include South Africa, with Whitehill shale formation spanning the Karoo region earmarked for development.

At the same time, a number of other countries have instituted full or partial bans on shale gas development, primarily owing to public opposition to perceived environmental externalities associated with shale gas operations. These include the potential to create water shortages, cause groundwater and surface-water pollution, local air quality degradation, induced seismicity, ecosystems fragmentation, incur fugitive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and various community impacts.

While all the above potential impacts are relevant and worthy of further exploration, The Policy and Futures Unit at WWF has decided to firstly focus on water related issues of shale gas development as potential competition for scarce water resources is a particularly pressing concern in a semi-arid region such as the Karoo, as is the potential contamination of these scarce water resources. Water availability and wastewater management are also crucial determinants of the profitability of shale gas operations, making this an equally relevant discussion for the industry.
There has already been significant debate on these issues in South Africa, at various levels, from involvement by the general public in protests, to dedicated scientific conferences. The true magnitude of water-related risks posed by shale gas activities continues to be the subject of engaged scientific and popular debate worldwide.

This – internally funded – research seeks to provide a concise overview of the current state of knowledge on the main water issues associated with shale gas development, in the hope that it will contribute to a better understanding of the risks faced by water resources and their users in the South African shale play areas.
Shale gas report
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