South Africa has moved a step closer to exploring shale gas as government considers lifting restrictions on fracking.

Thibedi Ramontja, the director-general of the Mineral Resources Department, said government would consult interested and affected stakeholders next month, before finalising the regulations to allow exploration to begin.

The announcement follows an investigation between 2011, when the Mineral Resources Department stopped new applications for exploration rights, and October 2013 into the environmental impact of fracking.

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

Economic benefits

Mr Ramontja also said it was too soon to estimate the gas reserves, economic contribution and how many jobs the projects would create, but was keen to highlight that shale gas will not only create a new industry, but also provide South African higher education institutions with research opportunities.

The investigation looked at the potential impact of fracking on astronomy research projects linked to the Square Kilometre Array project being built in the Karoo, set to become the world’s biggest telescope.