Environmental Management

, Volume 63, Issue 3, pp 338–351 | Cite as

Local Perceptions of Hydraulic Fracturing Ahead of Exploratory Drilling in Eastern South Africa

  • Devan Allen McGranahanEmail author
  • Kevin P. Kirkman


Applications for exploratory shale gas development via hydraulic fracturing (fracking) have raised concern about energy development impacts in South Africa. Initially, focus was on the arid Karoo, but interest now includes KwaZulu-Natal, a populous, agricultural province with high cultural, ecological, and economic diversity. We conducted focus groups and an online survey to determine how some South Africans perceive fracking. Focus group participants were unanimous in their opposition, primarily citing concerns over water quality and rural way-of-life. The survey confirmed broad consistency with focus group responses. When asked which provinces might be affected by fracking, KwaZulu-Natal ranked behind provinces in the Karoo, suggesting an awareness bias towards Karoo projects. Frequently-identified concerns regarding Agriculture and Natural Resources were Reduced quality of water, Negative impacts to ecosystems and natural biodiversity, Reduced quantity of water, and Pollution hazards. Frequent concerns regarding Social, Cultural, and Local Community issues were Impacts to human health, Visual/aesthetic degradation of tourism areas, Degradation of local infrastructure, and Physical degradation of tourism sites. Most survey respondents were pessimistic about potential benefits of fracking to South Africa’s domestic energy supply, and did not agree fracking would reduce negative impacts of coal mining or create jobs. Survey respondents were pessimistic about government’s preparedness for fracking and agreed fracking created opportunity for corruption. Many respondents agreed they would consider fracking when voting, and identified needs for more research on fracking in South Africa, which focused heavily on environmental impacts, especially water, in addition to the welfare of local citizens and their communities.


Fracking in KwaZulu-Natal Energy and social science Sustainable energy development Unconventional natural gas in South Africa Veld management and the energy industry 



DAM recognises partial support for travel from the NDSU School for Natural Resource Sciences. We appreciate the assistance of several individuals and agriculture-related non-governmental organisations in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape; because many participated in the focus group discussions they helped us organise, they remain anonymous here for confidentiality purposes.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Natural Resource Sciences–Range Science ProgramNorth Dakota State UniversityFargoUSA
  2. 2.Grassland Science, School of Life SciencesUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalPietermaritzburgSouth Africa

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