An interdisciplinary group of UCT researchers that included experts on economics, the environment, governance, technology, public health, environmental humanities and energy planning met on February 13 to discuss shale gas exploration and extraction, ahead of a workshop with Pennsylvania State University in March/April.
There has been a national outcry about Shell's proposal to start fracking for shale gas in the fragile and ancient Karoo, with critics warning of the likelihood of land degradation and groundwater pollution.
The UCT/Penn State workshop on the subject will provide substance to the memorandum of understanding signed between the institutions in 2011; a commitment to joint research projects, exchange programmes and other academic activities.
"It [Shale gas exploration] is a key area for UCT, and it's critical that we need to have an agenda going into the workshop with Penn State," said Professor Francis Petersen, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment and convenor of the working group .
The information gathered at the meeting will be collated and consolidated by the working group ahead of the workshop and discussions with Penn State.
"If exploration licences have been approved for Shell to commence for shale gas, how do we ensure it happens in a responsible way, taking into account all the speakers here?" Petersen asked.
"Fortunately UCT is home to many biodiversity experts, which will be useful for the workshop," Petersen said. "The socio-economic perspective is also important, and this is one of UCT's research strengths."
Because of its national relevance and strong interdisciplinary nature, shale gas exploration and extraction could become a strategic focus in the research agenda at UCT, he added.
The Research Office has driven this process thus far, in collaboration with the International Academic Programmes Office.
Story by Helen Swingler. Image by Raymond Botha.
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