Fracking ‘disasters’ are exaggerated - author

Author Ivo Vegter says the country’s economy stands to benefit from fracking in the Karoo.

Equipment used for the extraction of natural gas is viewed at a hydraulic fracturing site on June 19, 2012 in South Montrose, Pennsylvania. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - Cabinet says it has decided to lift a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the Karoo because more information is now available and because the economic opportunity cannot be ignored.

Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane told a post-cabinet briefing on Friday that a series of public meetings would be held, but did not say when this would start.

While the Marikana tragedy and the delivery of textbooks in Limpopo featured in the briefing - it was THE controversial method of mining underground gas that drew most of the attention.

The response has been predictable, with petroleum company Shell welcoming the development and the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry saying the economy could benefit from Government's decision.

Environmental lobby groups have vowed to fight fracking every step of the way.

Jonathan Deal from the Treasure the Karoo Action Group said cabinet's decision was not surprising, but disappointing.

"We will oppose it at every step of the way, until and unless we are convinced it is the right step for South Africa."

But Ivo Vegter, who has completed a lot of research into fracking and recently released a book on the exaggeration of environmental issues, disagrees.

He said the country's economy stands to benefit from fracking.

"Most of the time, [Environmental lobby groups] go way over the top and the disasters that they predict simply don't happen.

"The notion that it will destroy the Karoo is just nonsense."

Political parties have said they will be watching to make sure that if fracking goes ahead, it will be done safely.

Cabinet says a buffer zone will separate any shale gas exploration from zones dedicated to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project.

Fracking refers to the process of creating fractures in rocks and rock formations by injecting fluid into cracks to force them to widen further.

More oil and gas then flows out of the larger cracks and into a wellbore, where mined substances can later be extracted.