“This is an important and welcome example of leadership from government,” said Saliem Fakir, head of WWF South Africa’s Living Planet unit.
“It is critical that we consider shale gas with caution and carefully evaluate what is happening elsewhere in the world so that we can learn from these experiences.”
Anglo-Dutch energy giant Shell is among several companies wanting to explore for shale gas in the vast central Karoo, using hydraulic fracturing known as “fracking”, which has raised environmental fears.
Mining minister Susan Shabangu on Thursday announced a six-month extension to an existing moratorium, saying interim study reports had been sent back for further details and that the public would also be consulted.
“WWF views the extension as a wise step given that there is currently insufficient, independently-reviewed scientific data around the environmental consequences of shale-gas exploration and extraction to support a decision to proceed with exploration in South Africa,” said the group in a statement.
“In addition, several economic and social arguments in favour of shale-gas extraction remain, at best, weakly supported,” it said.
Detailed and objective investigation was needed, the WWF added, citing concerns over the impacts on water resources and establishing the process’s carbon footprint.
Seen as a means to release untapped energy sources, fracking pumps water, sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure to free gas from rock, but has sparked controversy in several countries.