Protesters gather outside the Shell offices on the Foreshore to object to plans for fracking in South Africa. PICTURE: JASON BOUD

Johannesburg - The discovery of shale gas in the Karoo creates possibilities for growth and economic development in the Northern Cape, President Jacob Zuma said on Friday.

“We are extremely excited about the prospect, because as government we consider hydraulic fracturing for shale gas a 'game-change' opportunity for the Karoo region and for our economy at large,” he said in a speech prepared for delivery at the launch of the Kalagadi Manganese company's Stanley Nkosi sinter mine.

“We must explore this potential,” Zuma said.

He said the government was aware of concerns raised about hydraulic fracturing, including the issues of its affect on the province's water and environment.

“The Mineral Resources Minister (Susan Shabangu) will therefore be coming back to this area early next year to consult with communities, and to hear what the people have to say, before any further decisions are taken by government on this matter.”

Fracking is the process of fracturing rock by pumping pressurised liquid deep into the ground to extract natural gas trapped in shale layers.

A year ago, Cabinet agreed to lift a moratorium on applications to explore for shale gas in the Karoo using fracking.

The decision was based on recommendations contained in a report on shale gas exploration prepared by a technical task team, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said last September.

In August, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said government could authorise shale gas exploration before next year's elections.

At the time, the Alliance Against Fracking in SA said it believed the country's laws were “inadequate to control an industry with a severely tarnished reputation and the process of fracking”.

Treasure Karoo Action Group chairman Jonathan Deal added that the government had largely relied on research commissioned by the mineral resources department to investigate the potential consequences of fracking.

“... In our considered view (this research) is singularly inadequate, considering the multi-disciplinary nature of mining activity,” he said.

The sinter mine, which is based in the town Hotazel, is named after Stanley Nkosi and Thembeka Moedi, from Batlharos, Kuruman.

“They are the ones who were part of the team that cultivated the ground on which this imposing infrastructure stands. We ought to pay homage to such selfless citizens of our country. Indeed, they make South Africa a great place to live in,” Zuma said.

He said the two died before the mine was completed.

Zuma said R6.5 billion of capital had been injected into the province in the past four years, with at least 3000 direct jobs created.

“Also, the project has had an impressive safety record with more than 10 million man-hours without a fatality. This deserves to be emulated,” he said