South Africa's government has laid out new regulations for shale gas exploration, opening up possibilities to tap into the country’s abundant shale gas reserves.
Shale gas extraction might give the largest African economy the chance to source energy from cleaner resources than the currently dominant coal.
"Not only does the potential of shale gas exploration and exploitation provide an opportunity for us to begin production of our own fuel, but it also marks the beginning of the reindustrialisation of the South African economy," said South Africa’s Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu in a statement.
"By embarking on this process presented by hydraulic fracturing for the production of shale gas, we bring the country a step closer to the achievement of our objectives."
Last year, South Africa lifted a moratorium on shale gas exploration in its Karoo region, believed to have some of the world's biggest reserves of shale gas. However, the region is also home to many endangered species including mountain zebra and riverine rabbit.
The newly outlined regulations are believed to involve technical specifications for protection of water resources – a major requirement of conservationists if fracking in the region is to go ahead. Further measures for protection of wildlife and Karoo’s rich fossil deposits are also part of the new guidelines.
Several companies have already expressed their interest to frack in South Africa, including Royal Dutch Shell. The firm has commissioned a study last year, stating that developing just one-tenth of South Africa’s resources could boost the country’s economy by $19.56bn (£12.3bn) a year and create 700,000 jobs.
South Africa would like to reduce its heavy dependence on coal, which emits greenhouse gases linked to climate change. Currently, nearly 90 per cent of the country's power supply comes from coal-fuelled plants.
The proposed regulations have been published in South Africa's government gazette and the public has 30 days to comment on them.