Fracking in the Karoo – Update July 2013

Karoo fracking
Karoo fracking
Map showing fracking applicants in the Karoo Basin. Courtesy Treasure the Karoo Action Group.
Although the moratorium on exploration for shale gas in the Karoo was lifted 10 months ago, no drilling has taken place yet, and is unlikely to do so for 6 to 18 months.

When lifting the moratorium in September 2012, the South African Government made it clear the exploration could not yet include the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The country’s outdated gas regulations are currently being amended to include new developments, including unconventional gas.

The Water Research Commission has only just begun its research into fracking’s possible impacts on groundwater in the Karoo.

Exploration Licences

As a result, exploration licences have still not been issued to the current three applicants: Royal Dutch Shell (concession area of 90 000 square km), Falcon Oil and Gas (concession area 30 000 square km) and Bundu Gas & Oil Exploration, owned by Challenger Energy (3 200 square km). And the licensing process is unlikely to happen before 2014.

Only once exploration licences are issued will the applicants declare where they will explore within their concessions. An Environmental Impact Assessment process will then begin for each site. Royal Dutch Shell has indicated it will drill a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 24 wells across its three adjoining concessions over three to nine years.

Shell has not announced where it will obtain the millions of litres of water needed for each fracking event, but has said it will truck the resulting toxic wastewater from exploration to hazardous waste disposal sites in the Western Cape or Gauteng.

In December 2012 Falcon (listed in Toronto and headquartered in Dublin) entered into joint venture partnership with Chevron to explore the Karoo Basin. Falcon had previously indicated it will not explore by drilling or fracking, but will initially use only seismic testing.

Bundu Gas and Oil has not made their method of exploration public.

Sungu Sungu and Others

But these are not the only fracking applicants in the massive Karoo basin. Other companies have been granted Technical Cooperating Permits (TCPs), allowing them to do desktop studies on shale in their concessions, prior to being granted permission to prospect.

They include Sungu Sungu which has two concession blocks totalling 100 000 km2 covering parts of the Northern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and North-West Province. Unknown company Moonstone has a TCP for the Kalahari region just south of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Sasol, in partnership with Chesapeake Energy and Statoil, allowed its TCP to lapse over a massive concession that covered most of the Free State and a large area of KwaZulu-Natal. The company said preliminary results did not look promising and drilling costs in South Africa would be six times higher than in Canada, where they also have fracking interests.

Dolerite – the Wild Card

In June 2013, the US Energy Information Administration report lowered its previous estimation of South Africa’s shale gas reserves from 485 trillion cubic feet (tcf) to 390 trillion cubic feet, mainly because of the “geologic complexity caused by igneous intrusions into [the Whitehill Shale Formation]”.

The Karoo is the only shale gas field in the world that is riddled with dolerite, also known locally as ironstone. It originates from volcanic action 180 million years ago. Dolerite is extremely hard, is a known preferential pathway for fluids, and Jan-Willem Eggink of Shell has admitted they would like to steer well clear of it.

Karoo fracking
Karoo dolerite, indicated in red. Map courtesy of Institute for Groundwater Studies.



6 thoughts on “Fracking in the Karoo – Update July 2013

  1. Mandi Smallhorne says:

    Julienne, do you have any info about the geology of the NW and Kalahari areas, and the area around Lesotho? I assume dolerite does not apply there?

    • Julienne says:

      Hi Mandi. I’m no geologist, but I know the Drakensberg (and Maluti Mountains) are part of the volcanic action that resulted in the dolerite. Above ground it became the very hard basalt mountains we have today.

      As for the NW and Kalahari, I’m not sure. I don’t think there is much dolerite there. As far as I know, it is confined to the Karoo basin, which is the pale grey portion of the TKAG fracking map at the top of the article.

      But I’ll try to get more clarification from a geologist. Meanwhile, there are two helpful books on SA geology for laymen: “The Story of Earth & Life” by Terence McCarthy and Bruce Rubidge, and “How on Earth” by Terence McCarthy.

  2. Mpho Mokhoane says:


    Since this article was published last year in July, are there any updates regarding when Shell will obtain its exploration licence and when they could possibly begin drilling?

    • Julienne du Toit says:

      Hi Mpho
      Government recently announced they would start public consultations on their newly drafted fracking regulations in September (this month) and following which they will issue exploration licences. But they may face legal problems first, so it’s hard to say at the moment. Could be months. Could be years!

  3. Gordon Keith says:

    Please advise the latest info on the status of fracking in South Africa , who actually signs agreements, who actually profits onshore and offshore I want to know everyone involved, names please.

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