Environmentalists are most concerned that the Karoos underground water resources will be polluted through the liquid used in the fracking process.

Cape Town - Cabinet has agreed to lifting the moratorium on applications to explore or frack for shale gas in the Karoo.

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

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.”

Cabinet had further mandated Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu to hold a series of public consultations with interested and affected stakeholders to provide further details, he said.

Responding to questions, Chabane said the fracking was unlikely to affect the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project.

“My understanding of the report is that there will be a buffer zone between where the shale gas exploration will be permitted and where the SKA will be.

“According to scientists this is sufficient enough to ensure neither of the programmes are affected negatively.”

On the lifting of the moratorium, he said shale gas was a mineral resource “we might possibly have”.

But to determine if it was present required a “sequence of steps” to take place.

“The process, in terms of legislation, is that people make applications to explore, then they go into the environmental thing, and, once it's approved, then they go into exploration. And if they find something, then they go into full production.”

He noted that the issue had “become a national debate”.

However, Cabinet was “satisfied” with the recommendations in the report and the moratorium was lifted.

On when the report would be made public, he said it would be released by Shabangu “at the appropriate time”.

On whether exploration companies would have to resubmit their applications, Chabane said it was the process that had been suspended in terms of the moratorium, not the applications. - Sapa