Wednesday, January 4, 2012
South Africa is among the growing number of countries that want to unlock previously inaccessible natural gas reserves trapped in shale, deep underground. The drilling technology -- hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," for short -- holds the promise of generating new revenue through taxes on the gas, creating thousands of jobs for one of the country's poorest regions, and fueling power plants to provide electricity to roughly 10 million South Africans who live without it.
But many sites here and on other continents being considered for drilling by oil and gas companies and by governments short of cash are in fragile areas where local officials have limited resources, political leverage or experience to ensure that the drilling is done safely. The new drilling, which draws strong support from the United States government, represents a boon for U.S. companies such as Halliburton, Chesapeake Energy and ExxonMobil that have greater experience with shale gas, and therefore are likely to win many lucrative contracts abroad. More than 30 nations, including China, India and Pakistan, are now considering fracking for natural gas or oil. The gas production surge has spurred interest in building pipelines and terminals that liquefy the fuel, so it can be shipped to far-flung markets.
Some economists and environmentalists say that while governments of poorer countries may benefit from new tax revenues and jobs, they may not be paying enough attention to environmental risks of drilling. They also note that local residents -- who bear the brunt of air pollution, potential water contamination from spills or underground seepage, and truck traffic tied with drilling -- may see few benefits. (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 1/4/2012)