18 November 2019
South Africa is facing the challenge of fueling economic development, while meeting its growing energy demand, and defining ambitious targets for the decarbonization of the country’s energy system to meet its nationally determined contributions under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
An IIASA study evaluated shale gas exploitation as a potential solution to meet South Africa’s energy demand and mitigate its fast-rising greenhouse gas emissions. Accessing this untapped resource would however require industrial-scale shale gas “fracking” – a technique that enables natural gas production from previously uneconomic shale resources. Despite benefits like reducing local air pollution compared to coal, shale gas fracking has many negative social and environmental impacts including increased risk of earthquakes, water pollution, a reduced water table, and methane leakage that contributes directly to global warming.
The authors found that shale gas extraction costs must be below US$3 per gigajoule for this energy source to become a significant part of the fuel mix. This is well below current cost estimates. Whether low-cost shale gas replaces coal or low-carbon renewables depends on the stringency of climate change policy. Counterintuitively, the impact of an ambitious policy is weakened by cheap natural gas.
“Shale gas is ‘fool’s gold’ in the quest for sustainable development,” says study coauthor Daniel Huppmann, a researcher in the IIASA Energy Program. “Given its negative side effects, pushing strongly for zero-carbon renewable energy is a more prudent policy for developing countries like South Africa.”
By Luiza Toledo
Last edited: 21 November 2019
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Orthofer, C., Huppmann, D. , & Krey, V. (2019). South Africa After Paris—Fracking Its Way to the NDCs? Frontiers in Energy Research 7, art.20. 10.3389/fenrg.2019.00020.
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