Research showing that a shift from coal to natural gas-based energy would have a limited effect on climate was “exactly why” SA’s moratorium on shale gas prospecting was appropriate, commentators said yesterday.
The research feeds into the often heated debate over applications to exploit SA’s estimated 14-trillion cubic metres in potential shale gas resources using the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) technique.
SA, which is heavily coal- dependent (more than 90 percent), has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
The research is published in this month’s Climatic Change Letters, a section of the peer reviewed journal Climatic Change that provides a vehicle for rapid publication. It found that a 50 percent reduction in coal, with a corresponding increase in natural gas use, would actually lead to a slight increase (less than 0.1º C) in worldwide warming for the next 40 years before it afforded a reduction, under one scenario, of only 0,1º C.
Another scenario had reductions starting only in 2140.
Research released in the same journal in April showed fracking released more methane than previously thought.
Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu ’s moratorium on shale gas prospecting is to last to the end of February.
Ms Shabangu is waiting for a special task team’s report on shale gas before considering the moratorium’s future.
World Wide Fund for Nature SA climate change programme manager Richard Worthington said studies of this kind showed there was “not a robust scientific basis” for claims by those eager to exploit SA’s shale gas that it would serve to address accelerating climate change.
Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has instructed officials of her department to “carefully examine” the research claims “in the context of research being conducted by various research institutions in (SA) on the environmental impacts of … fracking”, she said in a letter to Democratic Alliance environment and water affairs spokesman Gareth Morgan.
She had also asked for information from the departments of energy and mineral resources, Ms Molewa said.