Cape Town – Government says it is ready to regulate and monitor companies that have expressed an interest in exploring shale gas in the country.

Thibedi Ramontja, the Director-General of the Mineral Resources Department, said the draft regulations will, once finalised, be effective to deal with the risks that exploration might pose to the environment.

The Director-General said this when briefing the Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources on its progress in finalising the regulations for petroleum resource development.

“The draft regulations, once finalised, will result in a regulatory framework that ensures safe extraction of gas, which will contribute to diversification of South Africa’s energy mix, energy security supply, significantly boost South Africa’s economy and have positive effects on the Gross Domestic Product,” he said.

The department first halted new applications for exploration rights in 2011 to investigate the impact that the process would have on the environment, and an interdepartmental task team was set up to head this process.

The investigation also looked at ensuring that fracking would not affect astronomy research projects linked to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project in the Karoo – the world’s biggest telescope that is currently being built in the country.

After the investigation, the draft regulations for petroleum exploration and exploitation were published for public comment in October last year.

Ramontja said government would consult interested and affected stakeholders next month, before finalising the regulations to allow exploration to begin.

He said while it was too soon to estimate the gas reserves, economic contribution and how many jobs the projects would create, he said companies – local and international – would not have shown interest if they did not anticipate to make profits.

The Director-General also said that once shale gas will not only create a new industry, it would present South African higher education institutions with research opportunities that are expected to produce Masters Degrees and PhDs.