Johannesburg - The government will neither accept new applications nor finalise current bids for shale gas exploration until its own feasibility study on the matter is finalised, the department of minerals said on Friday.
"Given the intensity and scale of the issue and the fact that this (shale gas exploration) has never been done before in our shores, my department will conduct a comprehensive study which will assist us to formulate our approach after which we will go back to cabinet," Minerals Minister Susan Shabangu
Royal Dutch Shell is one of the companies facing opposition to its plans to seek shale gas in the semi-desert Karoo region, as farmers fear extraction methods will contaminate water and harm the environment.
Shabangu said she was considering sending a team of experts to other jurisdictions so that they could "draw lessons with regard to shale gas exploration".
There was initial confusion that the moratorium applied only to new applications.
Many South Africans have voiced concern about fracking (the hydraulic fracturing method), particularly the agricultural sector, saying it could affect economic survival and quality of life in rural communities.
The cabinet has endorsed the department's decision to place a moratorium on licences.