The first comprehensive portrait of what an expanse of the Karoo looks like – the surface and the subsurface – which will have a bearing on any decision on shale gas development, is to be painted with the help of a gyrocopter. The Karoo is seen as a potentially significant source of shale gas in South Africa, but its extraction faces local opposition.
This week, the aircraft will start flying over the Eastern Cape section of the Karoo with an instrument on board that will survey the rock down to 1km.
It will fly at a height of 40m above the ground along a 10 000km survey line, straddling the districts of Jansenville, Klipplaat and Waterford.
“For the first time ever, we will be measuring the magnetism of the rocks here to determine if there are deep fault lines, fractures and magnetically mineralised rock bodies from a few hundred metres down to one kilometre,” geophysics professor Moctar Doucoure said.
“This deep geophysics research is critical to any decision around shale gas development,” he said.
“It is one thing to create big projections in terms of GDP but what does this mean for the environment, the people on the ground and the existing agricultural economy?
“There are so many factors that need to be considered.
“We need to know, for example, if there are deep faults and fractures, as they would be a conduit for gas and contaminants from fracking or deep level drilling.
“This could also precipitate micro-earthquakes.”
The research is part of a baseline studies project that Doucoure, of the Africa Earth Observatory Network (AEON) of the Earth Stewardship Science Research Institute (ESSRI) at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, and his team are undertaking in the Karoo to establish a comprehensive portrait of how the Karoo looks today – the surface and the subsurface.
He said baseline studies were all about creating a foundation of thorough research from which to think and act.
“You cannot take decisions or produce accurate economic forecasts until you have collected and analysed the required data,” Doucoure said.
The gyrocopter survey area was selected because it has been part of AEON’s research project area for the past three years.
The AEON-ESSRI team is already using a drone that can carry 5kg of equipment to monitor the surface and ecosystem of the Karoo from Tarkastad to Cradock to Graaff-Reinet to Aberdeen.
One of the key engagements the team has needed to undertake has been to explain to Karoo landowners and communities why this indepth research is bona fide, necessary and beneficial.
“It is critical to properly research and analyse the Karoo’s groundwater as it is today, together with the host structures in the surface and subsurface,” Doucoure said.
The research findings will be made available to the public.