A new report, commissioned by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), has foundSouth Africa lacking sufficient comprehensive baseline studies to support the development of ashale gas industry in the country.

Presenting the consensus report titled ‘South Africa’s technical readiness to support the shale gasindustry’, the study’s panel chairperson and University of Cape Town Professor Cyril O’Connorindicated that significant further research, studies and evaluations were required prior to the country embarking on the path of development of controversial shale gas.

The study, reviewing the technical readiness of South Africa to support a shale gas industry in the Karoo, was published on Wednesday by the Academy of Science of South Africa in conjunction with the South African Academy of Engineering.

The report, commissioned in 2014, had passed through Cabinet on September 28.

“We are in virgin territory, so to speak, of the development of shale gas,” O’Connor said, urging caution on the development of an industry that will require “strict compliance” and best practice.

However, this also meant the country had an opportunity to “do it correctly”, with indications that the development of shale gas could be done safely and securely with suitable legislation in place, he told stakeholders at the launch of the report at the Council for Scientific and IndustrialResearch in Pretoria.

“As soon as possible, there should be an intervention to begin [a rigorous and comprehensive set of] baseline studies,” O’Connor commented.

Thorough and detailed understandings of the baseline conditions on and in the ground are required, and, apart from technical studies, should be supplemented by an assessment of the socioeconomic impact on and status of the indigenous population, all of which should be considered along with a variety of independent scientific data pre- and post-implementation phases.

“A key recommendation is that relevant departments, with DST oversight, should initiate a majorproject to undertake, prior to the commencement of shale gas exploration/exploitation, robust multidisciplinary, regional and local baseline studies,” the report highlighted.

An economic implications assessment must be undertaken to “critically assess” the supply-demand situation, with emphasis on an extensive and comprehensive public consultation and engagement process with local communities in the Karoo.

The report also determined that “much needs to be done” to put in place a clear legislative framework and rigorous regulatory and monitoring structures, continuously and accurately monitoring the key elements in the industry.

“[This] will ensure that operators, in using their exploration and production licences, apply bestpractice technologies that are fully compliant with the rules and regulations governing the industry.”

Other interventions include the development of the requisite skills and infrastructure required for the sustainability of such an industry.