Thursday, October 28, 2021

Fracking incompatible with government’s SKA aspirations

The Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Dr. Alfred Madigele, needs to have a really long talk with his counterpart at the Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security in order to harmonise their ministerial plans.

Speaking in parliament during the debate on his ministry’s budgetary allocation for the 2017/18 financial year, Madigele sung praises of one South African institution.

“I was quite inspired by the model used by South Africans where they have CSIR – which is a Centre for Science, Innovation and Research – where they coordinate every little piece of research, where they coordinate research agenda at one focal point. It has done wonders for them and so far, that is why they are the leaders in the implementation of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) which we also want to be part of, so that we use the technologies for radio astronomy,” he said.

By SKA, the minister was referring to the largest optical telescope in southern hemisphere which will be located in Southern and East Africa and operated from South Africa. Botswana is one of the 12 countries that will host a subset of the 3000 dishes that will be arrayed across the sub-continent.

Madigele should also be impressed by what the South African parliament has done. Ten years ago, when the country prepared itself to bid for the SKA tender, the parliament passed the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Bill which protects the observatory sites from negative influences like mining and fracking. Lately it has been alleged that there is fracking going on inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve(CKGR). The Guardian, a United Kingdom newspaper, has reported that “the Botswana government has quietly sold the rights to frack for shale gas in one of Africa’s largest protected conservation areas.” The government itself has denied the allegations but doesn’t have a good record of truth-telling in matters related to the game reserve. What further complicates the matter is that save for a select group of CKGR residents which had to go to court to claim that right, no one has a right to go into the game reserve unless they have a permit. That being the case, it is almost impossible to know whether fracking is indeed going on in the game reserve. If it is, that would spell doom for the SKA project because fracking can harm an SKA dish if it is too close to it. That is because the radio signals generated by drilling creates interference. Experts say even if the drilling is 200 kilometres away, the interference will still happen. If the Botswana government is now diversifying the economy through fracking, no region would be safe and that may affect the SKA programme.

Years after joining the SKA programme, the Botswana parliament has not come up with law similar to South Africa’s.

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper