US oil giant Chevron had joined the hunt for natural gas in South Africa, according to news reports.
South Africa’s untapped shale prospects have already attracted attention from Royal Dutch Shell. But it has also raised the anger of environmental groups.
South Africa’s deposits are estimated to hold the world’s fifth-largest shale gas reserves.
According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), South Africa hopes investment in its energy sector will create much-needed jobs and help maintain cheap power for its mining heartland.
But some South Africans are concerned about the impact of hydraulic fracturing in the Karoo, an isolated region that is rich in nature.
Chevron, whose African portfolio is among the most diverse and long-established among major US oil companies, said it would partner with Toronto-listed minnow Falcon Oil & Gas one of only three firms with permission to conduct seismic studies of the local geology.
The five-year partnership will also allow Chevron to team up with Falcon should it exercise an exclusive right to convert the permit into a drilling license.
The move comes only three months after South Africa lifted a temporary ban on shale gas exploration, imposed early last year in response to concerns the controversial hydraulic fracturing technique, widely known as fracking.
Environmental groups and some locals fear fracking risks permanently damaging the Karoo, a region known for its arid beauty but also its poverty.
Proponents counter that fracking the Karoo could provide both jobs and development, two of South Africa’s most urgent and politically charged needs.