Cape Town - There has been mixed reaction to Cabinet's decision, announced on Friday, to lift a moratorium on applications to explore or frack for shale gas in the Karoo.

While AfriForum and the Freedom Front Plus both, in separate statements, condemned it, the Democratic Alliance suggested government proceed cautiously on the matter.

“The DA maintains that we have to proceed cautiously on this issue as the potential benefits in terms of job creation, cheaper energy and increased government revenue needs to be constantly weighed against the potential threats,” DA MP James Lorimer said in a statement.

These included threats to the country's agriculture sector, water resources and “the environmental integrity of the Karoo”.

He said evidence from other countries where fracking took place “persuades us that it is possible to harvest gas through hydraulic fracturing with low adverse impacts, provided that stringent conditions are put in place”.

There were examples across the globe where responsible fracking had taken place.

“The DA believes that it is vital that if fracking is to go ahead, then it must be done according to a set of best-practice guidelines based on lessons learnt from around the world,” Lorimer said.

AfriForum said it was shocked by Cabinet's decision, and warned it might have “catastrophic” results.

“South Africa is a water-scarce country. It is clear from across the world that fracking destroys ecosystems and, especially, pollutes water,” said the organisation's environmental affairs head, Marius Kleynhans.

The Karoo was an environmentally sensitive region.

“This area is a very sensitive, semi-desert environment, which will not return to its natural state after such an impact. No matter what precautions are taken, one slip-up or shortcut, and the environment will be contaminated beyond repair,” he said.

AfriForum would take action against the decision through an anti-fracking campaign.

The FF Plus said it noted the Cabinet decision with disapproval.

“The party is of the opinion that there are many examples that serve as sufficient proof that fracking is dangerous to the environment. The ANC government did not at all indicate how fracking can be done responsibly,” FF Plus MP Anton Alberts said.

Earlier, Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Minister Collins Chabane told a post-Cabinet media briefing that the decision was based on recommendations contained in the report on shale gas exploration prepared by the technical task team that was appointed last year.

This was after the department imposed a moratorium on applications for exploration for shale gas - using the fracking method - in the Karoo, amid concerns of possible environmental impact.

“Cabinet endorsed recommendations of the report on the lifting of the afore-stated moratorium,” Chabane said.

The report would be released by Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu “at the appropriate time”. - Sapa