South Africa lifts fracking ban in Karoo region

South Africa has lifted a moratorium on shale gas exploration in the Karoo region, where the extraction technique of "fracking" is expected to help tap some of the world's biggest reserves of the energy source, giving a big boost to the local economy.

According to Collins Chabane, a minister in the president's office, the cabinet had decided on the step after a study set at rest safety concerns over the method that had drawn ire from environmentalists.

"When (the results of the study) ... came back, they recommended that it was clearly safe for us to have that programme of exploration of shale gas," Chabane told reporters yesterday.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves pumping of pressurised water, chemicals and sand underground to release gas trapped in rock formations, but some landowners and environmentalists fear the technique could pollute water supplies.

However, fracking is gaining ground in the US, releasing huge quantities of natural gas and unleashing a potential energy revolution which other countries are keen to follow.
According to an initial study commissioned by the US energy information administration, South Africa had 485 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas resources, located mostly in the vast semi-arid Karoo Basin.

The reserves, ranking the fifth largest among 32 countries included in the study, could be a long-term solution for the energy problems of Africa's largest economy, which was under pressure to boost its supply of electricity and cut its dependence on coal, now fuelling 85 per cent of its power plants.