Pretoria - Should a report find that fracking is possible in the country, South Africa should forge ahead with it as it could contribute to energy supply security, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said on Thursday.
In 2011, the Department of Mineral Resources imposed a moratorium on fracking - which is a method of gas extraction - in the Karoo, a move followed by the establishment of a task team to look into the matter.
"As a department responsible for the mandate of security of supply, we are conflicted when it comes to issues related to shale gas. We are conflicted correctly so because we've got to look at South Africa becoming self-reliant in terms of energy resources, and if we are informed that there is potential for this resource, it is just for us to encourage the Departments of Science and Technology and Mineral Resources to make it possible if it is proven...
"Let's extract it and let's make sure that our own National Environmental Management Act makes it possible that we extract it safer," explained Peters.
Briefing media ahead of her department's budget vote, Peters said the matter needed engagement.
"Let us not shun this debate. While we're waiting for a report from Cabinet, it is my wish and prayer that when the report is tabled, it can ... say ... that the gas is there and [we] can extract it for the benefit of the people of South Africa.
"If it's in the best interest for South Africa, let's do it but I am committed on the outcome of Cabinet," she said, adding that fracking could benefit job creation and the security of supply of energy.
If it is found that fracking can be done in the Karoo, this would not mean that the country's nuclear plan would be impacted.
"If fracking is agreed to, we don't see it replacing [the nuclear plan]," she said, noting that setting up fracking would take some years.
"[Going] into the future, it would just reassure us. The nuclear plan is part of the country's industrialisation plan. Fracking would reassure us of security of supply," said the minister. She added that fracking had been beneficial for the US because when the price of liquid fuels was going, up theirs was declining.
While on the issue of the nuclear energy expansion programme, the department had taken note of concerns raised, including Japan's Fukushima incident. South Africa's Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010-30 makes provision for nuclear build.
"Nuclear energy is going to play a critical role in the IRP implementation process, and it is for that reason that the National Nuclear Energy Executive Coordination Committee (NNEECC) was established last year," she said.
The NNEECC, which is the authority for decision making, monitoring and general oversight of the nuclear energy expansion programme, is headed by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.
The success of nuclear power, she said, required public acceptance and education around the matter. The department was working closely with the National Nuclear Regulator to review existing regimes for the design and safety of nuclear reactors.
"An assessment of Koeberg and Safari 1 has been done. The overall conclusions are that the installation designs are adequate to withstand extreme circumstances as originally identified. Potential improvements aimed at reducing risks beyond the design requirements were identified, and NECSA and Eskom will be required to implement them," said Peters.
South Africa is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency and had signed up for stress tests to ascertain whether its reactors were vulnerable to natural causes like tsunamis. As a member of the agency, the country had several milestones it must meet.
The department has been allocated R6.8 billion in 2012/13, 95% of which is to be spent on transfers and subsidies, while the operational budget is R307 million.
In the past financial year, the department saw the completion of the New Multiproduct Pipeline (NMPP) which was now operational; improvements in the turnaround times on petroleum licensing from 90 to 60 days for new retail entrants as well as receiving approval of the NNEECC to oversee the roll-out of the 9.6 megawatts nuclear build programme by 2030.
To date, over 250 000 Solar Water Heater systems have been installed, with the department foreseeing to reach the 1 million installations target by 2014.
Since the dawn of democracy, a total 5.4 million electricity connections have been achieved.