SKA builders warn on fracking interference

Cape Town - The builders of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope in the Northern Cape hope to co-exist with shale gas prospectors, but if needs be will invoke new astronomy laws to protect their interests, MPs heard on Wednesday.

"We're looking for a co-existence with fracking", science and technology department chief director for astronomy Val Munsami told Parliament's science and technology portfolio committee.

Construction on phase one of the SKA, which on completion will be the world's biggest radio telescope is set to start in 2018, centred on a site about 90km north-west of Carnarvon.

Work is currently under way there to build a precursor telescope, known as MeerKAT, which comprises 64 antenna dishes. These will eventually be incorporated into the SKA.

An area hundreds of kilometres across, protected in terms of radio interference and light pollution, and known as the Karoo Central Astronomy Advantage Area has been declared around the site.

Munsami said his department would first seek to co-exist peacefully with so-called frackers drilling for shale gas.

"But we're also mindful that there might be instances where we will collide."

If this happened, the department would look to provisions of the 2007 Astronomy Geographic Advantage (AGA) Act for protection.

"This is why we have the AGA Act, which preserves and protects the astronomy facilities and investments that we have made so far."

Members of his department were currently working closely with their counterparts in mineral resources.

"In fact, we form part of the monitoring committee for fracking. And so we look [after] the astronomy interest in that [forum].

"And so what's very important is that as the exploitation, exploration licences are being dished out, we have to be mindful of what the requirements are for the astronomy."

Munsami said the existence of "buffer zones" around the astronomy facilities in the Northern Cape had to be taken into account when it came to fracking licences.

"And so what's very important is that there must be concurrence from the [science and technology] minister around any licences for exploitation and exploration around fracking", he said.

Read more on: kimberley fracking ska
merkwaardig 2014-09-03 04:09:53 PM
Ha-ha-ha! I invoke thee, the inverse of the square of the distance law! Let's see prospectors deal with that!
Kganyago Jay 2014-09-03 04:18:36 PM
Fracking in Karoo is very short sighted. Permanently polluting a scarce groundwater supply that supplies agriculture in an arid region just for a bit of temporary extra energy, for an energy problem that would be solved within 20 years anyway by cheaper solar tech.
Bazooka Bums 2014-09-03 04:51:58 PM
Please invoke the astronomy laws then as the Southern Skies are far less studied compared to the Northern skies...and I want clean water for future generations and mother nature. Fracking is a greedy, dirty and is totally destructive for all except for FAT-cats. Booooo Shell...keep destroying more pieces of earth, done a great job already! Can't even clean up properly either! Please watch a documentary called Gas-Lands...(found on uTube) and stop the destruction of SA's beautiful land.
Geoff Skelton 2014-09-03 07:04:40 PM
F###ing sad, I pointed this out before/during the bidding process and also afterwards and they ignored it. Now we have the SKA, guess what, it will get interference from fracking. This was completely obvious from the start. If they think they have a snowballs hope in hell in heading off the DME in their personal quests for millions in backhanders then they are really deluded.The so-called buffer zones mean squat. Can the project now as the gas means a lot more to SA than the SKA, lets get real on our priorities. Let the Aussies spend a few billion more on their SKA.
Michael Lawson 2014-09-04 07:11:51 AM
The mandelas will always win against a foreign organisation on local turf , even if , besides international disapproval , it destroys our enviromental heritage and our water purity . Corruption will force them to have to pay too . Our government is rotten to the core since years already.
Laurence Weyers 2014-09-04 08:41:00 AM
Hydrogen fuel cell technology is a perfectly good alternative to fossil fuels but technically more expensive to extract hydrogen from air, so the major fuel companies do not want to go that route. Fracking is cheaper and easier