Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg

South African Farmers Wary of Gas Fracking as Licenses Expected

  • Concern about where water will come from after long drought
  • Decision on whether to issue 5 permits expected in months

Farmers in South Africa say they need more assurances that shale-gas drilling is safe for their industry as exploration licenses for companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc are expected in months.

After emerging from the worst drought on record, farmers still aren’t clear about where explorers will get the water they need to inject chemicals as part of a drilling technique known as fracking, Johannes Moller, the president of growers’ body Agri SA, said Wednesday at a press conference. There’s also uncertainty about how land will be rehabilitated after drilling and how land owners will be compensated, he said.

The development of gas in the semi-desert Karoo region, which is estimated by regulators to hold as much as 201 trillion cubic feet of the resource, has been slowed by legislative delays. Momentum has increased following the introduction of a program to diversify South Africa’s fuel mix by using natural gas, and Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane has said he favors the exploitation of shale resources.

“We can’t support the government’s view on progressing shale gas” until there are answers, Moller said. South Africa’s Academy of Science in November also recommended further research before moving ahead with exploration.

Representatives of Shell, the Department of Minerals and the Department of the Environment didn’t immediately return emails seeking comment.

The minister will decide on five applications in the third quarter, according to Petroleum Agency South Africa. If permits are issued, Agri SA will appeal immediately, said Janse Rabie, the group’s head of natural resources.

One of the least-populous areas of the country, the Karoo produces most of South Africa’s wool and accounts for the bulk of the country’s mohair output, as well as sheep and ostrich meat.

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