* Environmentalists criticised Karoo exploration
* Exploration licences in Karoo valid for three years
* South Africa also pushing for more offshore activity
(Adds offshore quotes, recoverable resources)
By Wendell Roelf
JOHANNESBURG, May 15 South Africa's government
may award its first shale gas exploration licences by the end of
September, after environmental objections delayed the process, a
senior government official said on Monday.
The five licence applications under review are for
exploration in the semi-arid Karoo basin.
Environmentalists criticised plans to work in the sparsely
populated region, known for its rugged scenery and home to rare
species such as the mountain zebra and riverine rabbit.
Royal Dutch Shell, Falcon Oil and Gas and
Bundu Gas & Oil are among five firms whose applications were
being reviewed by the regulator, acting Petroleum Agency SA
(PASA) Chief Executive Lindiwe Mekwe told Reuters.
PASA would make recommendations to Mineral Resources
Minister Mosebenzi Zwane to decide on the licence awards.
"We anticipate that the minister will be in a position to
make a determination during the second or third quarter," Mekwe
"If the decision is made this year the exploration rights
will be valid for a period of three years, exploration
activities should commence within three years," she said.
South Africa is seeking to replace its dwindling offshore
gas reserves and reduce reliance on coal to fuel power plants.
Shell said last year its Karoo project could compete in its
global shale gas and oil portfolio provided commercial terms
were attractive. It had previously pulled back from the plans
due to low energy prices and licence delays.
South Africa’s recoverable gas reserves from onshore shale
and offshore gas fields was estimated in 2015 at about 19.5
trillion cubic feet (TCF). Officials say it would take about a
decade to significantly develop these gas resources.
Mekwe said Total had applied to renew its offshore
exploration licence, but was not expected to drill in the next
two years as the French firm continued engineering work for a
drill ship to deal with rough sea conditions.
Sasol, Exxonmobil and Impact had received
an upgrade in their technical co-operation permits, which
entitle holders to conduct desktop studies, to offshore
exploration licences, she added.
Mekwe called for more opportunities for black citizens to
enter the oil and gas industry, expected to expand once a
Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Bill is finalised.
"PASA is indeed adding weight on black economic empowerment
credentials," Mekwe said.
(Editing by Ed Stoddard and Edmund Blair)