Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Botswana in quandary over fracking

Botswana has been hitting international headlines for the wrong reasons. Firstly, Survival International called on tour operators to boycott the country’s tourism over the treatment of the Basarwa. Just when everyone was smarting from the shocker, a documentary funded by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) exposed ‘fracking’ activities in Botswana and to add salt to injury, CKGR where the Basarwa are being forced out, is one place where gas exploration is taking place.

This week, the two companies at the forefront of gas exploration in the country, Kalahari Energy and Tlou Energy, hosted local journalists at their respective prospective sites near the tiny villages of Mmashoro and Moiyabana in the central district in a bid to come clean on their activities.

Hydraulic fracturing has stirred up controversy globally between environmental and scientific groups, which question its safety, and pro-business groups that support the economic benefits.

In Botswana, a number of publications made allegations about ‘fracking’ activities being carried out in the country, including the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) and some part of the central district.

The executives from the two companies, supported by government senior officials, amongst them Deputy Permanent Secretary at the ministry of Minerals and Energy Ministry, Nchidzi Mmolawa, took journalists through a stretched lecture on ‘fracking’ and its benefits to the local economy.

Kalahari Energy‘s Technical Consultant, Mokwaledi Ntsimanyana, said fracking is the common term for hydraulic fracturing, which involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals deep into the ground through encased wells at high pressure to create and expand fractures in the shale rock thus releasing trapped oil and natural gas.

Ntsimanyana explained that during the transformation of organic matter to coal, methane and other gases are generated.

Chief Executive of Kalahari Energy, Steve Martin, explained the process will result in alleviation of undue pressure on current electricity supply in the country.

“There will be a reduction of Botswana’s dependency on the importation of more expensive fossil fuels and electricity,” Martin argued on the sidelines of the media tour of KE’s prospective sites.

Amongst other things, Kalahari Energy, once they fully commercialise their processes, want to produce compressed natural gas (CNG) – a substitute for gasoline (petrol), diesel, and propane fuel.
CNG according to Kalahari Energy executives is an environmentally “clean” alternative to petrol and diesel fuels and is much safer than other motor fuels in the event of a fuel spill.

According to media reports, Kalahari Energy is under the government radar after it was found to possess equipment that could be used in fracking.

Available figures show that in response to high fuel prices, and environmental concerns, compressed natural gas is starting to be used in light-duty passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks, medium-duty delivery trucks, urban transit and school buses. There are 5.71 million Natural Gas Vehicles (NGV’s) worldwide with South America leading in terms of absolute numbers.

Another economic benefit that has been mentioned was part ownership by the government of the prospective projects. Through mining legislation, the Government reserves the right to buy 15 percent of the project at fair market value.

However Sunday Standard understands that the government has opted not to exercise this right to date, and could implement it once the gas field becomes commercially operational.

Meanwhile, Tlou Energy’s Chief Operating Officer, Glen Smith, pointed out on Friday that his company aspires to supplement the energy needs of the rapidly growing southern African region through developing its current and new venture gas projects.

Tlou has been active in Botswana for over three years with approximately US$40 million having been invested on drilling and testing programs to date by Tlou and the previous operator.

This has resulted in over 70 wells drilled along with the acquisition of a comprehensive technical data base.
The company’s current drilling program comprises two horizontal pilot pods called Selemo and Lesedi. Each Pod has a single vertical well with each vertical well having two ~750m in-seam horizontal wells drilled to intersect it through the targeted basal Morupule Coal Seam.
“This approach has proved to be successful in CBM basins in Queensland and will facilitate faster and more efficient dewatering and gas drainage of the targeted coal seam,” Smith told local journalists who were touring the sites on Friday.

Mmolawa, who is responsible for issuing mining minerals, says that the two companies will only be given a go ahead if they can present an eye catching business case. “They need to prove to us as government that indeed there is abundance of gas and that indeed the project will be sustainable as well as the fact that they have adequate resources to go into such kind of business.”

The Deputy PS further stressed that with respect to prospecting activities in the country, no current operations have been given permission to conduct hydraulic fracking.

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