CAPE TOWN, Sept 11 Evidence of water
contamination would be grounds for South Africa to halt
exploration for shale gas in its semi-arid Karoo region, the
mines minister said, addressing fears its decision to develop
the abundant resource could harm the environment.
South Africa, seeing prospects for a major boost to its
economy, last week lifted a ban on shale gas exploration in the
Karoo, which contains some of the world's biggest reserves of
the energy source.
The decision aroused criticism from environmentalists who
say water supplies will be polluted by the extraction technique
of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking", in which pressurised
water, chemicals and sand are pumped underground to release gas
trapped in shale formations.
The government said in a report released on Tuesday that
other concerns included the amount of water required for
fracking, as water is scarce in the Karoo.
The sparsely-populated Karoo is renowned for sheep farming
and home to rare species such as the mountain zebra and riverine
rabbit, placing it firmly in the sight of conservationists.
"If the process is such that there is a threat to water in
South Africa we will have to stop the process," Mineral
Resources Minister Susan Shabangu told journalists on Tuesday.
The government report said hydrological studies would be
conducted to minimise potential impacts on other users.
The studies would also examine whether fracking would cause
excessive dust that could disable the "Square Kilometre Array"
(SKA) telescope, which will be located in the same area.
South Africa in May won the rights to host the $2 billion
radio telescope, the world's biggest, along with Australia and
"If there is going to be a negative impact on the SKA which
cannot be mitigated, we may have to halt the process," Shabangu
According to an initial study by the U.S. Energy Information
Administration, South Africa has 485 trillion cubic feet (TCF)
of technically recoverable shale gas resources, most of which
are located in the Karoo Basin.
(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Agnieszka Flak and