JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's cabinet placed a moratorium on Thursday on exploration licenses in the country's semi-arid Karoo region where the controversial shale extraction technique of "fracking" might be deployed.
"Cabinet has endorsed the decision by the Department of Minerals to invoke a moratorium on licenses in the Karoo where fracking is proposed," the government said in a statement.
The Karoo is a vast and ecologically sensitive region that is high on the radar screen of conservationists.
Petrochemicals group Sasol (SOLJ.J), Anglo American (AAL.L) and Falcon Oil and Gas (FO.V) are among those eyeing shale gas there. Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) is leading the pack with exploration rights to 90,000 sq km (34,750 sq miles).
But Karoo farmers and conservationists are concerned about the possible impact of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," in which drillers blast millions of liters of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into underground rock to create cracks for gas and oil to escape.
Shell was not immediately available to comment.
(Reporting by Ruona Agbroko, editing by Ed Stoddard)