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Hydraulic fracking in the Karoo, South Africa


Various oil and gas companies (such as Shell, Bundu, Falcon, Anglo) have applied for licenses to explore for shale gas in the Greater Karoo Basin (spanning from the Western Cape to KZN), with the intention of producing natural gas using the controversial method of horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Local farming communities (and South African citizens at large) are concerned about the possible water and air contamination, surface disruption, threats to existing economies (agriculture, tourism) and human and animal health. The carbon footprint of shale gas development and its contribution to climate change is also a concern. It is a contentious issue because shale gas is competing with viable alternatives for energy production, using renewable technologies such as solar and wind, which are possible in the area.

Following great public concern and opposition, the South African government declared a moratorium on exploration license applications in April 2011, with the purpose of appointing an interdisciplinary task team to conduct a feasibility study on the full effects and implications of fracking. No civil society groups were part of the task team. The moratorium was renewed for a further six months in September 2011 to allow the task team to complete its study.

After fruitless attempts to gain access to information on the task team, the EJO Treausure the Karoo Action Group sued Minister Shabangu in October 2011, with the North Gauteng High Court ruling in their favour in January 2012.

In September 2012, the Cabinet announced the lifting of the 17 months moratorium on exploration for gas in the Karoo. Over these months, the Shale Gas and Hydraulic Fracturing Task Team has been investigating the environmental and social concequences with members drawn from Pasa, the departments of Environmental Affairs, Science and Technology, Energy and Mineral Resources, the Council for Geoscience, SKA South Africa, Water Commission and Eskom. No members of civil society or agriculture groups were part of the Task Team. TKAG responded with a press conference and also a mobilisation of the Global Day against Fracking on September 22nd 2012.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Hydraulic fracking in the Karoo, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape
Location of conflict:Greater Karoo Basin
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional 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:Natural Gas

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The International Energy Agency claims that there are 485 trillion cubic feet of shale gas beneath the surface in South Africa. This may be a wild overestimate, but has acted as a stimulus to certain oil companies to apply for exploration rights.

The amount of technically recoverable gas is not yet known. However, vast quantities of fresh water are needed in hydraulic fracturing operations (about 20 million litres per fracture per well), in an area that is very arid and already water constrained.

Royal Dutch Shell (allocated exploration area 90,000 square kilometres); Falcon Oil and Gas(30,000 square kilometres); Bundu Gas and Oil (3,100 square kilometres); Anglo Coal; joint application by Sasol, Statoil and Chesapeake Energy (88,000 square kilometres). (Sasol withdrew their application in Nov 2011).

Project area:29,000,000
Level of Investment:200 million (Shells potential investment alone)
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:40,000,000
Start of the conflict:12/2010
Company names or state enterprises:Royal Dutch Shell (Shell) from Netherlands
Falcon Oil and Gas
Bundu Gas and Oil from Australia
Anglo American from United Kingdom
Statoil from Norway
Chesapeake Energy
Sasol from South Africa
Relevant government actors:Department of Mineral Affairs , Department of Energy, Department of Water Affairs, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Health, Department of Tourism, Provincial government, District and local municipalities, PASA , Department of Mineral Affairs
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Derek Light (attorney based in Graaff-Reinet, representing over 300 landowners and communities), TKAG (Treasure the Karoo Action Group; Jonathan Deal), Fractual (Ian Perrin), Earthlife Africa (Muna Lakhani), WWF (Saliem Fakir), WESSA (Wildlife and Environment Society of SA), CJN!SA network, Centre for Environmental Rights, Western Cape Wildlife and Environment Society, Southern Cape Land Committee, Agri-SA (commercial farmers lobby)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Social Media (facebook, twitter)


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Other Environmental impactsThe above environmental imapcts have been documented in areas where hydraulic fracturing is currently being used.
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsHuman and animal health impacts from exposure to known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, VOCs, and other undisclosed chemicals.
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsSocio-economic impacts listed above have been documented in affected communities in the USA during a shale gas boom.


Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Development of alternatives:Proposals for shale gas development using hydraulic fracturing, directly compete with the possibility of renewable technologies in the Karoo, which is eminently suited for wind and solar energy generation, and which could also create many local jobs.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The applications to explore for shale gas in the Karoo were placed under a
temporary moratorium endorsed by Cabinet in April 2011. This moratorium
was renewed for a further six months in Sept 2011. In Feb 2012 the
moratorium was extended again, with a decision expected in July 2012.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

National Environmental Management Act





Integrated Resource Plan 2010 documentation

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

WWF Response to Econometrix study:

Dr Chris Hartnadys presentation at Cape Town shale gas conference:

WWF Position paper on Fracking:

Response to Golder's Draft Environmental Management Plan South Western Karoo Basin Gas Exploration CENTRAL PRECINCT Shell Exploration Company B.V. - PASA Reference Number 12/3/220 April 2011

Greenpeace Africa. 2011. The True Cost of Nuclear Energy in South Africa. Johannesburg: Greenpeace.

Teaching Screens. 2008. Uranium Road (54-minute documentary).

Royal Dutch Shell - A Critical Review of the Application for a Karoo Gas Exploration Right

Fig, D. 2007. Uranium Road: Questioning South Africas Nuclear Direction. Johannesburg: Jacana.

Hallowes D. 2011. Toxic futures. Pietermaritzburg: UKZN Press.

Fig, D. 2010. Nuclear Power Rethink? The Rise and Demise of the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor. Pretoria: Institute of Strategic Studies.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Unearthed the documentary

Fracking protests


Meta information

Contributor:Marina Louw, Jolynn Minnaar
Last update18/08/2019