Many South African politicians, economists and specialists in the energy sector are celebrating the news that a promising show of natural gas has been discovered in deep water south of Mossel Bay. It was found in an offshore prospecting area called Brulpadda (Afrikaans for bullfrog), which is licensed to global energy giant Total. The discovery, comes against the backdrop of rising fuel prices and an electricity utility in crisis, has raised hopes that it may be a game changer. The Conversation Africa’s Nontobeko Mtshali spoke to Robert Scholes and Rod Crompton about the significance of the find.

Is this an energy “game-changer”?

It’s not yet clear how big the find is. In a press release, Total said it “could be around one billion barrels of global resources, gas and condensate light oil”. To put that in perspective, South Africa’s total refinery capacity is 700 000 barrels of oil per day.

The gas is present over a relatively large vertical distance (57 metres), but it’s not clear how extensive the gas-rich area is. We simply won’t know until more holes are drilled, and three-dimensional seismic surveys are completed.  Gas can be converted into liquid fuels. There are only a few gas-to-liquids refineries around the world. PetroSA, South Africa’s national oil company, built one in Mossel Bay in 1989, which it still operates. It is the smallest refinery in the country.

The Brulpadda find contains condensates – a kind of light crude oil – which only PetroSA’s Mossel Bay refinery can process.  This means the biggest benefit will probably be to that refinery. It has a capacity of about 40 000 barrels a day, and the Brulpadda find – given its proximity – could extend its life substantially.