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Published by: Ruona Godwin Agbroko-Meyer on Aug 28, 2011
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08/28/2011

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S.Africa imposes "fracking" moratorium in
Karoo
 
By Ruona Agbroko
JOHANNESBURG
|
 
Thu Apr 21, 2011 11:37am EDT
 
(Reuters) - South Africa's cabinet placed a
moratorium on Thursday on oil and gas explorationlicenses in the semi
-arid Karoo region, where the
controversial shale extraction technique of "fracking"
might be deployed.
The Karoo is a vast and ecologically sensitive region that is high on theradar screen of conservationists."Cabinet has endorsed thedecision by the department of minerals toinvoke a moratorium on licenses in the Karoo, where fracking isproposed," the government said in a statement.Petrochemical group Sasol (SOLJ.J), Anglo American (AAL.L) and FalconOil and Gas (FO.V) are among those eyeing shale gas in the region.Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) is leading the pack with exploration rights to90,000 sq km (34,750 sq miles)."We have noted the South African cabinet's endorsement of the decisionof the department of minerals, and we will seek clarity from the departmenton the full implications," a Shell spokesperson told Reuters.Karoo farmers and conservationists are concerned about the possibleimpact of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," in which drillers blast millions ofliters of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into underground rockto create cracks for gas and oil to escape."The department madea decisiona while back, and cabinet has endorsedthe decision," cabinet spokesperson Jimmy Manyi said.He told Reuters the department ofminerals and resources (DMR) wouldlead a task team to explore the implications of fracking, which wouldinclude the departmentsof trade andindustry as well as science andtechnology."The multi-departmental task teamis going to make sure that all anglesare covered in terms of government getting proper information about theimplication of fracking," he said.Manyi did not give a timeline for when the research would be concludedbut said the moratoriumwould remain in place until "there is conclusive evidence that there will beno unintended consequences on the environment."Applications already submitted will have to wait.
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"There will be nothing that will be approved until the research is carried out, concluded andpronounced on," Manyi said.The Karoo region, home to rare species such as the mountain zebra and riverine rabbit, may holdvast deposits of natural gas in shale rock deep underground.Once unobtainable, such reserves can now be exploited with fracking and could serve as a badlyneeded energy source for Africa's largest economy, which relies heavily on coal.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also currently studying the impacts of frackingon drinking water. Initial results are scheduled for release in 2012.(Editing byEd Stoddardand Jane Baird)
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