CAPE TOWN, Oct 19 (Reuters) - South Africa's High Court has quashed regulations governing proposed shale gas fracking, farmers lobby AgriSA said on Thursday after taking the government to court to stop fracking in Eastern Cape province.
The ruling marks the latest setback to South Africa's shale gas ambitions after a scientific study published last month suggested its Karoo Basin probably has a fraction of estimated deposits, deflating expectations of an energy bonanza.
"The judgment in our favour shows what can be accomplished when a community rallies around something as potentially devastating as fracking," Janse Rabie, AgriSA's natural resources chief, told Reuters.
South Africa’s government said in May it might award its first shale gas exploration licences by the end of September, after environmental objections delayed the process.
Royal Dutch Shell, Falcon Oil and Gas and Bundu Gas & Oil are among five companies whose applications were being reviewed by the regulator.
Criticised by environmentalists worried about its ecological impact, fracking involves using water and chemicals at high pressure to crack rock and release the gas.
Campaigners say fracking could threaten the environment of the semi-arid Karoo, famed for its rugged scenery and rare wildlife.
The application to review and quash South Africa's shale gas regulations, which has been in place since June 2015, was brought by the president of Agri Eastern Cape, together with 15 other applicants, including the agricultural unions of rural towns Graaff-Reinet and Cradock.
"Fracking has the potential to contaminate the groundwater supplies and surrounding environment, which will impact sheep, wool and maize growers," AgriSA's Rabie said. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf; editing by James Macharia and Jason Neely)