The socio-economic and environmental implications of shale gas development in the Karoo, South Africa

Irene, Julius Omokhudu (2021) The socio-economic and environmental implications of shale gas development in the Karoo, South Africa. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


The emergence of shale gas development in the global energy landscape depicts a critical energy innovation of the 21st century. Shale gas development has significant benefits when developed sustainably; however, the shale technology is known to induce unintended impacts on the local environment. Much study has focused on explaining responses at the local and national level; however, little research has explored the role of risk perception and sociocultural factors in shaping expert and public perception of shale gas development. This study used a mixed-method approach (utilizing a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods) to explore the underlying factors shaping expert and public perception about shale gas development and to gain a better understanding of the reasons for support and opposition to shale gas development in South Africa. The study used data collected from experts spread in different areas of the country and public participants from the four cultural groups across the Beaufort West area of the Central Karoo. The qualitative data revealed that experts were showed an ambivalent response to risk and significant support of the shale technology. The quantitative data also showed mixed results across the cultural groups with variation to risk and benefits. The White and Indian respondents opposed shale gas development on the account of significant risk on the environment. The Black and Coloured respondents showed strong support of shale gas development based on economic benefits. The study revealed that positive evaluation of shale gas development evoked support of the shale technology while a negative perception indicated opposition to the shale technology. Key reasons given by experts in favour of shale gas development are economic growth, energy independence and the assumption that shale gas could be the optimal ‘bridge fuel’ from coal to renewable energy. The study revealed that expert assessment of the risks of shale gas development is lower than the White and Indian groups. Other predictors of perception include level of institutional trust, knowledge, and access to relevant information. The observed differences and similarities between experts and the social groups are due to variations in costs and benefits perception. The findings are examined in relation to the extant literature on perceptions. The study provides an account of attitudes towards shale gas development in the Karoo to fill the gaps in the existing literature and examines potential policy implications arising from these outcomes.

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