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Fracking exploration in Matatiele, South Africa


Oil and gas companies have tried to tap into South African resources for over a century. Complaints about fracking in South Africa began in the Karoo, an arid environment where there are limited water resources. This issue is debated because while fracking has potential economic and energy benefits, it can also cause potentially adverse environmental impacts. After initially proposing a ban on hydraulic fracturing in April 2011, the South African government lifted this postponement in September 2012. Consequently, several energy companies were granted exploration licenses. The company Rhino Oil and Gas first proposed to frack in the Karoo in 2013, which stirred emotions for community members in Matatiele, a municipality in the Eastern Cape. In October 2015, Rhino Oil & Gas put forward the first proposal to explore areas that would offer the company the opportunity to explore the gas potential in the Matatiele region, which covered a total area of more than 120,000 ha and in excess of 200 farms. Following this, the company presented eleven more applications over the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Free State. Opposition campaigns began to arise all across South Africa and people came together under one common goal, a Frack Free South Africa. 

On August 24, 2016, an eight-year-old budding environmental activist spoke with the CEO in charge of Rhino Oil and Gas’s Matatiele project during a public meeting to ask “why are you doing this?”. On Oct 3rd and 4th, 2016, as part of FrackFree Fest, a long list of environmental and citizens actions groups hosted by FrackFree SA, groundwork and Environmental and Rural Solutions met to write a Manifesto against fracking in the areas around Matatiele, known as the Matatiele Manifesto [7]. On Thursday, Dec 1, 2016, Cheryllyn Dudley, an MP for the ACDP presented the concerns of the Matatiele Manifesto to Parliament. After the Western Cape High Court’s ruling against the application for ER by South African Agency for Promotion of Petroleum and Exploitation (PASA), the Minister of Mineral Resources and Rhino Oil and Gas Exploration South Africa (Pty) Ltd. in nearby Northern KwaZulu-Natal [8]. The Matatiele exploration license was approved in October 2017 by Dlamini, who has since left his post and has been arrested for fraud and scandal in a separate affair. In May 2019, AgriSa led legal actions against Rhino Oil and Gas, in relation to the exploration rights granted in the northeastern part of the Eastern Cape, which comes amid concerns that the state is backing fracking despite opposition from farmers and residents [9].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Fracking exploration in Matatiele, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:Eastern Cape
Location of conflict:Matatiele
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Shale gas fracking
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Natural Gas

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Hydraulic fracking is a form of gas extraction that involves digging wells that are around 2-3 miles deep into the ground [3]. After the wells are formed, about 20 million liters of water are required for one frack per well, as well as thousands of liters of chemicals, ranging from benign to highly toxic, some of which are known carcinogens (benzene) [2]. This water mixed with chemicals under high pressure crack the shale rock and release natural gas, mainly consisting of methane. The first formal interest in shale gas in the Karoo began in 2008, with an application for exploration rights - as yet ungranted - by Bundu Oil and Gas. Rhino Resources Ltd. (local subsidiary is Rhino Oil and Gas), with its headquarters in British Virgin Islands is pursuing oil and gas concessions in West, East, and Southern Africa that contain under-explored shale natural gas basins such as those at the base of the Drakensberg mountains in the municipality of Matatiele [5]. The area in Matatiele, called ER 295 (TCP No. 104) was approximately 120,000 ha in extent and covered approximately 200 properties (farms and portions). In October 2015, Rhino Oil and Gas submitted their first application for exploration of petroleum products (oil, gas, condensate, coal bed methane, helium, and biogenic gas) with the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (PASA) to study the reserves in the Matatiele region. PASA accepted the exploration rights (ER) application on 22 May 2015 (Ref: 12/3/295 ER) [6]. After the acceptance of the scoping report, Rhino Oil and Gas reduced the extent of the ER application area, excluding the Malekgalonyane (Ongeluksnek) Nature Reserve, resulting in an area of 110,572 ha. The EIR was open to public comment from August 12 - September 16, 2016. The Matatiele exploration license was approved in October 2017 by Dlamini, who has since left his post and has been arrested for fraud and scandal in a separate affair. In May 2019, AgriSa led legal actions against Rhino Oil and Gas, in relation to the exploration rights granted in the north eastern part of the Eastern Cape, which comes amid concerns that the state is backing fracking despite opposition from farmers and residents [9]. There are many disadvantages to fracking, including the contamination and losses to income from farming, grazing land, and the disruption of water sources - all for short term benefits from fracking. The land is intrinsically connected to South African culture and extracting their natural resources is a form of stripping away their identity. People in power ought to be aware of how decisions could potentially have on communities and have dialogues that give voice to all constituents, elite or underprivileged.

Project area:110,572
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:12,466
Start of the conflict:01/02/2016
Company names or state enterprises:Rhino Oil and Gas
The Petroleum Association of South Africa (PASA)
Relevant government actors:Petroleum Association of South Africa (PASA)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:The Umzimvubu Catchment Partnership:
FrackFree South Africa

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Social movements
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
International ejos
Recreational users
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Religious groups
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Air pollution, Fires, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Waste overflow, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsSand mining for use with fracking
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts, Displacement, Loss of livelihood


Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Development of alternatives:Although there is a lack of energy, the community believes there are various other alternative ways of supplying this energy; without compromising people's health and the longevity of the landscape. FrackFree South Africa has proposed alternatives to fossil-fuel based energy including decentralized solar power to rural communities.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The court ruled against fracking for KwaZulu Natal farmers (not Matatiele) and AgriSa is taking the government and fracking companies to court to defend the Matatiele community's decision to prevent fracking exploration in their lands. The case is still pending as of March2020.

Sources & Materials

Towards a Science Action Plan for Shale Gas in South Africa

Ruling against fracking a victory for KZN farmers

Rhino bid faces flak

Matatiele residents say no to ANC’s ‘game changing’ fracking

Insight: Water, wealth and whites - South Africa's potent anti-fracking mix

Fracking ruling a ‘massive victory’ for farmers

Global Fracking Resources

The FrackFreeFest held in Matatiele in October gathered 120 delegates from communities all over South Africa-

[8] Ruling against fracking a victory for KZN farmers

[1] Fracking ruling a ‘massive victory’ for farmers

[1] The Karoo Region of South Africa

[2] Description of hydraulic fracturing (fracking)

[2] Drawing a Line in the Sand - Report

[3] Description of hydraulic fracturing (fracking)

[3] Fracking the Karoo - Economist article

Matatiele Manifesto

[4] Strategic Environmental Assessment of shale gas development

[5] Rhino Resources Website

[7] Matatiele Manifesto

[9] The battle to stop the fracking licenses in Matatiele continues

Meta information

Contributor:Victoria Vandiver [email protected]; Ole Aobakwe [email protected]; Julie Snorek [email protected]
Last update07/04/2020






















Exploration Rights Map

Shows boundaries of the gas exploration area


Exploration Rights Map

Shows boundaries of the gas exploration area