Green lobby to fight fracking approval


ENVIRONMENTALISTS HAVE promised to legally challenge the South African government’s decision to lift a moratorium on shale gas exploration in the country’s Karoo desert using the method known as “fracking”.

The government introduced the moratorium early last year and commissioned an independent study into the method used to locate the underground energy resource because of concerns over its environmental impact on the ecologically sensitive area.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves blasting large amounts of water and sand underground to free natural gas from shale deposits, but it is highly controversial because of claims it pollutes water sources.

Performance monitoring and evaluation minister Collins Chabane said yesterday the decision to allow the exploration to go ahead was based on recommendations made by the study group. It had come to the conclusion it was “clearly safe to start a programme of exploration for shale”, he said.

The discovery of shale gas would be of significant benefit to South Africa as it was “an energy-scarce country”, he added.

There had also been concerns that fracking would affect the €1.6 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project, which South Africa secured in May. It is to be constructed across a large part of the Karoo.

Mr Chabane, citing the report, said: “There will be a buffer zone between where the shale gas exploration will be permitted and where the SKA will be.”

Companies such as Royal Dutch Shell and Sasol can now proceed to extract the estimated 485 trillion cubic feet of shale gas that scientists believe lie under the Karoo.

However, interest groups including Afriforum say they will legally challenge the decision, warning it could have “catastrophic” results for the water-scarce country.