Fracking activities in coal bed methane operations in Botswana

Please select a featured image for your post

Madam Speaker, over the past week a number of publications appeared in the local and foreign media making allegations about ‘fracking’ activities being carried out in our country, including the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). ‘Fracking’ is a slang term used to describe processes involving sub-surface fracturing of rocks, usually through the injection of fluids to facilitate the flow of gaseous material.

Government through the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources responded by confirming that the Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, has not issued any mining licence for shale gas or coal bed methane operations in Botswana. However, several prospecting licences (PL) for coal bed methane (CBM) and petroleum were issued in different parts of the country and a few of those fall within the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).
Madam Speaker, between 2001 and 2003, the Department of Geological Survey undertook and successfully completed a preliminary CBM exploration study. The main objective of the study was to assess the availability and the potential for development of natural gas resources associated with the coal-bearing sequences of the Kalahari Karoo Basin. The results of this study stimulated private investment in CBM prospecting in Botswana. As at end of September 2012 there were a total of 121 Prospecting Licences granted for energy minerals (for coal and CBM). The number has since reduced to 88 as of October 2013. This reduction is mostly the licences within the CKGR which were cancelled or relinquished. The maps showing prospecting licences are published in print and electronic as public documents and therefore the issue of secrecy does not arise as alleged by the media.

Madam Speaker, there is a lot of confusion regarding the terms Shale Gas and Coal Bed Methane, along with an array of other terms. Shale Gas is defined as a natural gas produced from a rock formation called shale. Shale has low permeability, so gas production in commercial quantities requires stimulation by fracturing (or so called fracking) to provide permeability for the gas to flow out.
Coal Bed Methane (CBM), also sometimes known as sweet gas, coal bed gas, or coal seam gas, is a form of natural gas extracted from coal beds. To extract the gas, a steel-encased hole is drilled into the coal seam (at least 400 meters below ground) and pressure within the coal seams brings water and gas to the surface for extraction.

Shale gas and CBM can be produced economically by using vertical and/or horizontal drilling, and hydraulic fracking. Horizontal drilling is the process of drilling a well from the surface to a subsurface location just above the target gas reservoir or coal seam called the “kickoff point”, then deviating the well bore from the vertical plane around a curve to intersect the reservoir at the “entry point” with a near-horizontal inclination, and remaining within the reservoir until the desired bottom hole location is reached.

Hydraulic fracturing is the use of fluid and material to create or restore small fractures in a formation in order to stimulate production from new and existing oil and gas wells. This creates paths that increase the rate at which fluids can be produced from the reservoir formations, in some cases by many hundreds of percentages.

Both processes involve steps to protect water supplies. To ensure that neither the fluid that will eventually be pumped through the well, nor the gas that will eventually be collected, enters the water supply, steel surface or intermediate casings are inserted into the well. Cement sealing is done to the top of the coal seam to seal off the borehole from the water aquifer above, typical other layers on non-porous rock formations such as mudstones also prevents water from the production borehole to be in contact with aquifers above.

With respect to prospecting activities in the country, no current operations have been given permission to conduct hydraulic fracking. If such a process were to be carried out without authorisation it would be a violation of the Mines and Minerals Act of 1999 and the Environmental Assessment Act of 2011.
Special type of explosives were however, permitted for issue to one company in Lephephe and Mashoro in 2008, 2009 and 2010. These were once off permits which are no longer valid.  The explosives were used to fracture coals or carbonaceous materials on wells at depths of more than 450 metre. No fracturing has been done in the CKGR to date as alleged in the media.

The current controversy being generated in some media about so-called fracking in our country is related to a publicity campaign to promote a documentary film by the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa  entitled ‘The High Cost of Cheap Gas’ whose full content we look forward to seeing. For now all I can say is that although the filmmakers apparently targeted our country there is no record of them ever approaching Government about their allegations.
The motives behind the smear campaign is not yet clear, however what is clear is that it is targeted at undermining the progressive Mineral Development of our country as we embark on our mineral diversification drive. My Ministry and Ministry of Foreign Affairs are working around the clock to ensure that Government officials attend the launch, after which I will come back to this house to give you a full brief.

Finally, Madam Speaker I appeal to this house to collectively defend the sovereignty of our state against this smear campaigns against the country for the betterment of the quality of lives of our people.