March 17, 2011 / 1:12 PM / 8 years ago

S.Africa farmers seek halt on shale gas exploration

PRETORIA (Reuters) - South African farmers want shale gas exploration and production in the Karoo region to be put on hold until the extraction methods are proven environmentally safe, an industry group said on Thursday.

The governmant last month placed an indefinite moratorium on the processing of all new exploration and production rights in the Karoo, but this did not affect applications already in the pipeline.

“We are asking the minister to put a moratorium on further exploration and especially production of gas until we can be sure the processes that will be used will be safe on the environment and underground water,” Johannes Moller, president of Agri SA, told reporters.

Public concern focuses on the extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, in which drillers blast millions of litres of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure in underground rock formations to create cracks for gas and oil to escape more easily.

Royal Dutch Shell, petrochemicals group Sasol, Anglo American, Falcon Oil and Gas, and Bundu Gas and Oil Exploration, are among those eyeing shale gas in the region.

Shale gas could bring a much needed fresh source of energy to Africa’s largest economy, which is heavily reliant on coal.

“We realize that if the country wants to draw international investment, we must be energy sufficient, but the process that is to be used (in the Karoo) has not been tested to be safe,” Moller said.

He added: “If we cannot negotiate this moratorium with the minister then we will go as far as considering applying for an interdict to stop this process until it is proved safe.”

Farmers were worried about the sensitivity of the underground water systems upon which the Karoo is totally dependent, should contamination occur.

According to findings from a U.S. Congressional probe several energy companies there may have violated environmental rules by injecting diesel into the ground without permits as part of the controversial drilling technique.

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