Several research projects are under way to probe the environmental effects of fracking shale gas in the Karoo — including one that would entail digging one of the deepest holes on Earth. "We want to go deep into the abyss, to a depth of at least 10km," says senior Nelson Mandela University geologist professor Maarten de Witt. The hole would be more than twice the depth of AngloGold Ashanti’s 4km-deep Mponeng gold mine (among the deepest mines in the world) but shallower than Russia’s 12km Kola Superdeep Borehole, the deepest hole in the world. At a conference in Port Elizabeth recently, De Witt and other scientists provided a glimpse into some of the preliminary research work on the controversial plans to hydraulically fracture (frack) the central Karoo region. De Witt indicated that the big hole would most likely be near Cradock in the Camdeboo valley. Likening the proposed research centre to a kind of African "Silicon Valley", he said the focus would be on developing skills and kn...

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