The Petroleum Agency of South Africa (PASA) has appointed independent specialists and researchers to design a regional groundwater monitoring network for the Central Karoo. The team comprises experts from Institute for Groundwater Studies (IGS) at the University of the Free State (UFS), in partnership with specialists from Carin Bosman Sustainable Solutions (CBSS).
Around 2012 the Central Karoo dominated news headlines after major fuel companies discovered natural gas in the region and wanted to extract shale gas trapped underground using hydraulic fracturing or fracking technique. The discovery pitted the petroleum companies involved in the exploration against the environmentalist who felt the fracking process will cause enormous environmental damage to the area and its people. A moratorium has since been placed on granting exploration licences the fuel companies.
In 2016 the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) produced a report titled: Shale Gas Development in the Central Karoo: A Scientific Assessment of the Opportunities and Risks. It also recommended, among others, that “a comprehensive understanding of groundwater conditions is required prior to the commencement of exploration to ensure proper interpretation of changes in groundwater over time.
Monitoring data would also be used for calibration and verification of prediction and assessment models, for evaluating and auditing the success of management plans, and for assessing the extent of compliance with prescribed standards and regulations.”
The idea of establishing and implementing the monitoring network is to ensure there is an understanding of baseline groundwater conditions in the Central Karoo. The project aims to establish a groundwater monitoring network that will cover an area of more than 180 000 square kilometres and will be undertaken over a period of 24 months.
This will culminate in the publication of a regional groundwater monitoring network design for the Central Karoo, which will be subjected to local and international peer reviews. It is hoped the network, once established, will inform decision-making in the adjudication of applications for potential shale gas exploration activities received by PASA. In addition, it will also be used for future monitoring of groundwater in this area, irrespective of whether such applications are approved or not.
The specialists employed by the IGS and CBSS to undertake the project include SACNASP-registered scientists who have expertise and experience in geohydrology and the geology of the Karoo Basin. There are also experts in water governance (including the design and development of water monitoring programmes and the evaluation, interpretation, and visualisation of water quality data), and software developers who can handle large volumes of water monitoring data.
The groundwater monitoring network should generate monitoring outcomes that can provide answers to specific management and or governance questions posed by relevant decision makers (these include landowners and those involved in national, provincial, and local government) and other stakeholders.
Communication of monitoring results to the decision makers should be understandable, and be less technical. The intention is that the outcome of any monitoring activity should lead to improved and informed decision making with regard to groundwater management in the Central Karoo.
These management questions will depend on the needs of the decision makers, which could relate to one or more aspects of groundwater resources and or potential activities that could pose a risk of harm to a groundwater resource. To ensure that this monitoring network is designed in a way that addresses the expectations of all stakeholders, the project team calls on all relevant decision-makers and other interested stakeholders to contact them with management questions that they need to be answered by this monitoring network. Participation in the project is voluntary, and there are no cost implications for participants.
Selection of locations that will form part of the groundwater monitoring network will to a large extent rest upon the management questions that need to be addressed by the network. Once the management questions have been collected from stakeholders, the project team will undertake geo-hydrological, geophysical, and water-quality assessments to determine the suitability of existing boreholes to provide answers to prioritised management questions.
Where no suitable boreholes can be found to address management questions, recommendations relating to the drilling of additional boreholes for future monitoring purposes will be made. And if relevant decision makers and interested stakeholders are aware of any existing boreholes or any existing network of boreholes in the Central Karoo, the project team would welcome any suggestions to ensure that these existing options can be investigated for inclusion in the monitoring network.
The project team believes that the more management questions and information about existing boreholes is received, the more beneficial the final monitoring network design will be to decision makers and landowners in the Central Karoo.