Cape Town - The Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG), which is campaigning to stop Shell from drilling for shale gas in the Karoo, on Tuesday called on the government to impose an "immediate halt" to the international energy giant's application for exploration rights.
In a critical review report containing inputs from 22 scientists and academics, the group - the coordinating body for a range of stakeholders opposed to Shell's plans - proposed "that the entire application be subject to a moratorium".
A copy of the report was handed to President Jacob Zuma
's office at Tuynhuys on Tuesday.
Shell is poised to submit an environmental management plan (EMP), following the exploration application it made in December last year to drill 24 boreholes over the next three years in test areas stretching across about 90 000 km2 of the Karoo.
It is understood the EMP will be submitted on April 14, after which the government will have 120 days in which to make a decision on the application.
Speaking at a media briefing on Tuesday, TKAG national coordinator Jonathan Deal said the review report "lays waste to the draft EMP of Shell".
He expressed confidence that once the government had sight of the document, it would apply the precautionary principle, and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as it is known, would not happen in South Africa.
Hydraulic fracturing is a technique for extracting shale gas from deep underground by pumping a pressurised mixture of water, sand and chemicals down drill holes.
Shell, controversially, is planning to do this in the Karoo.
According to the executive summary of the report, compiled by specialist energy attorneys Havemann Inc, fracking poses a serious public health threat.
"Apart from the issues of water scarcity, fracking raises serious issues of water quality and thus public health. Potentially toxic chemicals and particulate materials are introduced to hold the fractures open once the initial pressure is released in the borehole."
Fracking, the report warns, has raised major concerns worldwide, including in the United Kingdom and France, the latter having extended a moratorium on shale gas exploration until the release of reports on its social, economic and environmental impacts.
Attorney Luke Havemann told journalists he believed the granting of Shell's application would be at odds with South Africa's constitution and inconsistent with its environmental laws.
He said the TKAG was "prepared to take this all the way to the Constitutional Court" if necessary.
The report also calls on the government to decline any future fracking applications in the Karoo, "by Shell or any other consortium".
At least two other companies - Sasol, and Denver-based Falcon Oil and Gas - are known to be interested in exploring for shale gas in the region.
The report finds, among other things, that fracking is "inconsistent" with provisions of South Africa's constitution, and that there are "uncertainties, unknowns and gaps in information that pose unacceptable risks to water resources in a water-stressed region, and to the health of both communities and ecosystems".