Farmers in SA say they need more assurances that shale-gas drilling is safe for their industry as exploration licences for companies including Royal Dutch Shell are expected in just months.

After emerging from the worst drought on record, farmers still aren’t clear about where explorers will get the water they need to inject chemicals as part of a drilling technique known as fracking, Johannes Möller, the president of growers’ body Agri SA, said on Wednesday at a press conference.

There’s also uncertainty about how land will be rehabilitated after drilling and how land owners will be compensated, he said.

The commercial development of gas in the semi-desert Karoo, which is estimated by regulators to hold as much as 5.7-trillion cubic metres of the resource, has been slowed by legislative delays.

Momentum has increased following the introduction of a programme to diversify SA’s fuel mix by using natural gas, and Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane has said he favours the exploitation of shale resources.

"We can’t support the government’s view on progressing shale gas" until there are answers, Möller said. In November, the Academy of Science of SA also recommended further research before moving ahead with exploration.

Representatives of Shell, the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Environmental Affairs didn’t immediately return e-mails seeking comment.

The minister will decide on five applications in the third quarter, according to Petroleum Agency SA. If permits are issued, Agri SA will appeal immediately, said Janse Rabie, the group’s head of natural resources.


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