“While only 23% of metro adults in South Africa are in favour of Shell (oil company) being allowed to conduct fracking in the Karoo, only 31% are against it,” TNS South Africa said.
The other 46% appeared not to know what fracking was or did not have an opinion, as they gave a "don’t know" response.
“The issue of fracking is not well known with around half of people having no opinion on the subject,” TNS said.
“While opinions do become stronger with increasing wealth (and hence, access to information), even then, a third of people do not give an opinion.”
Royal Dutch Shell and other companies have applied to the department of mineral resources to explore for shale gas in the Karoo basin using the controversial mining technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Environmental groups claim it will harm the sensitive Karoo environment and poison underground water supplies.
Shell SA argues South Africa could become “energy self-sufficient” within a decade if commercially viable gas volumes are discovered in the Karoo. This would drive foreign investment, reduce carbon emissions, and create thousands of jobs.
Race, gender differences
TNS found small differences in race and gender among those in favour of fracking.
Among black respondents, 23% agreed that fracking should be allowed while 26% disagreed. Just over half said they did not know.
About 25% of whites were in favour of fracking, 41% against, and 34% did not know. Twenty-four percent of coloureds agreed, 35% disagreed with fracking, and 41% did not know.
Among Indians/Asians, 18% were in favour, 40% disagreed, and 42% did not know.Twenty-seven percent of males were in favour of fracking, compared to 20% of females.
“The most supportive are white males at 29%” TNS said.
“Whites are the least likely to give a don’t know response while blacks are the most likely.”
Older people and wealthier people tended to be more opposed to fracking.
The survey found support for fracking lowest in coastal cities, especially the Eastern and Western Cape, while Bloemfontein and Durban showed the highest don’t know response.
TNS said the issue of fracking needed “much more airing so that the matter can be fully understood as there are potentially major implications both for and against this practice".
“That so many people have no opinion on the issue is very concerning.”
In August, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu extended a moratorium on applications for licences to prospect for shale gas using fracking for a further six months.
Her department set up a task team in April to investigate the impact of mining for shale gas in the Karoo.
TNS said its study had a margin of error of less than 2.5% for the overall result.
It was conducted among 2 000 adults - 1 260 blacks, 385 whites, 240 coloureds, and 115 Indians/Asians in the seven major metropolitan areas.