Accoding to Professor Cyril O'Connor, a senior researcher at the University of Cape Town who chaired the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) panel which undertook the study on South Africa's technical readiness to support the shale gas industry, South Africa has a serious shortage of the high-level skills that would be required to implement such an industry. Strategies thus need to be set in place to develop such skills, he says.

Skills needed to develop shale gas industry.jpb "Establishing a shale gas industry presents complex technical and economic challenges, and implementation will require a whole-of-government approach. A structure at government level to facilitate and co-ordinate all the activities relating to the industry is recommended," he adds.

Two reports have been conducted by the industry. The first was commissioned by the Department of Science and Technology and undertaken by ASSAf in collaboration with the South African Academy of Engineering. The second focused on shale gas development in the central Karoo, providing a scientific assessment of the opportunities and risks. This study was commissioned by the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Both deal with the uncertainties of developing the industry locally. "The discovery and exploitation of very large shale gas reserves in countries such as the US have transformed the energy market. South Africa may also possess potentially large resources of shale gas, which could have a significant positive impact on the country's energy balance should it be decided to exploit these resources. The exploitation of these key energy resources might have significant social, economic or environmental impacts and moreover will also present considerable technical challenges," says Prof O'Connor.

Speaking at a recent conference on shale gas, Dave Wright, General Secreatry of the South African National Energy Association, said that South Africa has a small and limited upstream exposure to shale gas and that there has not been a big demand for skills in that sector. This therefore needs to be remedied as the country will have to rely on imported skills to develop the sector.

"If you look at the skills development planning process in the country, it's very disparate. The Department of Higher Education and Training has orchestrated a skills development plan for government's various infrastructure programmes and they have said there is a huge skills shortage. We need to close that gap," he said.

"International experience has highlighted the critical need to have all the necessary legislative and regulatory structures in place, as well as a sufficient number of regulators with the required skills, before a shale gas industry is launched," adds Prof O'Connor.


Image credit: http://www.chemeng.uct.ac.za/chem/staff/academic/oconnor


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