Analysis: South Africa’s Proposed Fracking Regulations Should Do More to Protect Groundwater
South Africa is extremely water scarce, and water supply will become more challenging in the future. The population and economy are growing, increasing demand. Rainfall is variable and more extreme and prolonged droughts are expected because of climate change. More than 80% of South Africa’s available surface water resources are already allocated for use. Groundwater resources will therefore become more important in South Africa.
There is, however, a potential threat to those groundwater resources. South Africa depends heavily on coal for energy but its coal resources are being depleted. The country may turn to unconventional oil and gas resources to augment energy supply. And methods to extract oil and gas can contaminate and deplete groundwater.
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is used to extract trapped oil and gas from underground geological formations. A mixture of water, chemicals and sand is injected into these formations under high pressure. This opens up micro-fractures in the rock to release the trapped oil and gas, but it can also disturb the deep geological formations and aquifers. Groundwater can be contaminated if deep saline groundwater migrates to potable groundwater resources via hydraulic connections.
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