Treasure Karoo Action Group (TKAG) said on Monday it was seeking details about a task team that was investigating the impact of mining for shale gas in the Karoo.
The group said it had filed the papers in the High Court in Pretoria as a last resort after its requests for information from the department were ignored.
“The DMR has left TKAG with no alternative but to bring an application to court, in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act”.
The group said this was the first time legal proceedings had been instituted in relation to the 2010 applications by Royal Dutch Shell and other companies in connection with the controversial mining technique known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”.
TKAG chair Jonathan Deal said the decision to allow or refuse fracking would make international history and the public had the right to be kept informed.
“It is a complicated evaluation and the public of South Africa has an absolute right to be completely informed of the brief, activities and expertise of those who will be making decisions on an issue of national importance,” he said.
According to TKAG, the papers set out the history of the group’s “numerous, but fruitless” attempts to elicit information from the DMR regarding the task team that was appointed in April.
DMR spokesperson Zingaphi Jakuja said there was no secrecy around the task team.
“People come and go in government departments,” she said.
“Names are immaterial.
“They say they want the names of people. The work continues no matter who is in [the] department or not.”
The inter-departmental task team, which has been approved by the Cabinet, is studying the impact and viability of the proposed fracking.
The exploration programme, proposed by oil company Shell, has been criticised by environmental groups who claim it will harm the sensitive Karoo environment and poison underground water supplies.
Environmental groups claim the project will involve the drilling of at least six wells within the first three-year licence period.
The wells would be used to determine whether gas could be extracted in sufficient quantities to be commercially viable.
According to Shell SA, South Africa could become “energy self-sufficient” within a decade if commercially producible gas volumes are discovered in the Karoo.
Shell would invest around R1.6bn during the exploration phase alone, a fraction of what would be invested should the company proceed to the development stage.