PRO-FRACKING advertisements Shell SA placed in national newspapers were a technical statement of its opinions on the gas extraction technique to promote public understanding of the implications of shale gas exploration in SA, Shell SA chairman Bonang Mohale said yesterday.

Mr Mohale was speaking after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ordered the multinational to withdraw "unsubstantiated" and "misleading" claims it made in a series of full-page print advertisements about its aim to use the controversial gas extraction technique in a 90000km² area of the unique Karoo biome.

Fracking is the common term for hydraulic fracturing, which involves pumping a pressurised mixture of water, sand and chemicals down drill holes to fracture shale and release natural gas.

"We are disappointed by the ruling. The purpose of the advert was to provide information direct to the public to enable them to properly assess the nature of the proposed shale gas exploration in the Karoo, as well as the accompanying technology of hydraulic fracturing," Mr Mohale said.

Treasure the Karoo Action Group chairman Jonathan Deal said the group regarded the ASA ruling as an "important victory" against the "arrogance" of Shell's advertising campaign.

Shell's application to use fracking to determine whether the Karoo's shale beds hold economically viable gas reserves is not the only one lodged with SA's authorities, but it has been the most public.

Bundu Gas & Oil and Falcon Gas & Oil are also waiting for decisions on their applications for smaller areas of the Karoo.

A consortium comprising Sasol, Norway's Statoil and the US's Chesapeake Energy Corporation have a "technical co-operation permit" to conduct desktop studies on shale gas resources in an 88000km² area, primarily located in the Free State and also covering areas in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

The ASA ruled that four of the nine claims against which the anti- fracking Treasure the Karoo Action Group complained were either unsubstantiated, misleading or did not accord with Shell's own evidence. Four of the action group's contentions were dismissed and the ASA said it could not rule on one because it fell out of the ambit of the c ode of a dvertising p ractice.

The French government last week outlawed fracking, the first to pass a law banning the technique, Bloomberg reported. Shell SA's statement that advances in horizontal drilling and in fracking techniques, plus "rapid increases" in natural gas prices had lead to an increased awareness of the benefits of shale gas was not adequately substantiated and should be removed.

Shell's contention that "there has never been a single documented case of groundwater contamination resulting from fracturing" was deemed unsubstantiated, the ASA ruled.

blaine@bdfm.co.za