Unearthed wins at Durban FilmMart

After an extensive round of public pitching, private meetings with international broadcasters, funders and distributors participating in the 2013 Durban FilmMart, Unearthed was awarded a WorldView award at the closing event. WorldView acknowledged the film as a project that provides a rare and detailed insight into an increasingly important international issue. The WorldView award is development grant of €2500 that will go toward the post production costs. Unearthed was one of 8 documentaries selected out of over 30 submissions from Africa to participate in the FilmMart which was held in Durban from 21-24 July.

Fracking Dialogue in Steytlerville (22, 23 May) – Summary Statement

Statement of the participants to a dialogue on fracking held in the Karoo town of Steylerville on the 22nd and 23rd of May.




Several transnational corporations, including Shell, Falcon and Bundu, propose using hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) to extract methane gas from shale rock deep beneath the Karoo. Commercial scale fracking has so far proved viable only in the USA where it has polluted the land, the groundwater and the air and so damaged people’s health and their existing livelihoods.

Mindful of this destruction, we gathered in Steylerville for a dialogue of people who live in the Karoo and concerned organisations from throughout South Africa on a transformative agenda in response to the proposals for fracking. The objectives of the discussions were:  

  • To strengthen the voice of local communities who will bear the brunt of the impact of fracking on their health and environments (especially the Karoo’s precious water), and will face job losses, social dislocation, further food insecurity and a destruction of the sense of place which the people of the Karoo value.
  • To develop a co-ordinated fracking response with a transformative agenda raising issues of economic, social and environmental transformation.
  • To link with other national and international initiatives aimed at mobilizing and strengthening the voice of people whose lives are impacted upon by mining, oil and gas.

We believe struggle has to be led and organised by those who are suffering the negative consequences of neo-liberal policies and practices.  Those that are in solidarity and support the struggle for a Karoo that provides for the poor must recognise that the organising starts where people are.

We believe that our concerns about fracking for gas in the Karoo are similar to the concerns that give rise to the struggles of local people in the Karoo relating to: agrarian transformation; unemployment and decent jobs; the lack of decent levels of affordable basic services and infrastructure; and the inability of local people to access, at minimum, the basic goods of human life, starting with the most basic levels of goods like nutritious food, and safe and comfortable accommodation.

We recognise that as people of the Karoo we are connected to the world by the global crisis we face on the destruction of nature, the failing economic system and an ever more ruthless system of capital accumulation that dehumanises peoples’ labour.

Our struggle in the Karoo is embedded in responding to three challenges: ensuring an agro-ecology based on agrarian reform and food sovereignty; securing the Karoo’s scarce water resources; and ensuring that people have a direct say in how energy is produced and used in the Karoo through the approach of energy sovereignty.

We believe the above approach will allow us as the people of the Karoo to develop a meaningful and locally based response to the proposed fracking for gas in the Karoo and will ensure that we have a clean healthy environment – where people live and work – nurtured by the very way in which people live and work.



Representatives from small-scale farmer groups, farm workers and dwellers and advice offices in the Karoo

Southern Cape Land Committee

Earthlife Africa Cape Town

Earthlife Africa Johannesburg’s Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Project

Groundwork, Friends of the Earth, South Africa

Oilwatch Africa

Casual Worker’s Advice Office

Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG)

Eastern Cape Environmental Justice Network


Faith leaders

Independent researchers and academics from Rhodes, UCT and Wits Universities


About that “We’ve been fracking for 60 years” thing.

If you have been following the fracking debate, odds are, that at some point, either during a glitzy television commercial or in an energy industry press statement, you were reassured that hydraulic fracturing is “an old, time-tested technology” or a process that “has been used for over 60 years”. These claims instill a confidence in the industry and this method of energy production because, by now, it would mean that best practice is in place to limit any possible environmental degradation whilst pursuing energy security.

I fell for it too.

When I first started researching unconventional gas development, Mr Bonang Mohale, the chairman of Shell South Africa repeatedly assured audiences that his company has been fracking “for 60 years, in over 1.1 million wells, in the USA alone”. In support of economic stimulation, job creation and a response to South Africa’s energy crisis, I welcomed this news and repeatedly boasted the fine track record to concerned farmers in the Karoo:

“These companies have been fracking for three times as long as I’ve been alive, I think you’ll be okay Oom.”

But soon after I arrived in the United States, the origin of fracking and the main country currently carrying out the process, I realized how the Karoo community and many others had been duped.

Truth is, we’re talking about an entirely different drilling destination and a new type of technology to take us there.


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Rule 1: Do not speak of “fracking” unless you mean fracking.

With a growing number of countries considering shale gas extraction via the process of hydraulic fracturing, communities across the world are regularly reassured by the arriving energy companies that this an old, time-tested technology or that “there are no documented cases to link fracking to groundwater contamination”.

It is here, amidst clever wordplay and misconceptions around complex definitions, where the fracking debate reaches a stalemate between proponents of the technology and those opposing the global shale gas advancement.

The first stumbling block comes down to lack of common understanding around the definition of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”. In recent years, the word seems to have been adopted by the general public to refer to the entire window of shale gas extraction and production – the clearing of well pads, pipelines and compressor stations; the thousands of trucks bringing in all the additives; the drilling of the well; the explosions in the shale layer; the pumping down of fluids and the production of the gas.


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Unearthed director, Jolynn Minnaar, speaks to Cape Media

Unearthed director, Jolynn Minnaar, speaks to Cape Media about the upcoming documentary.

Jolynn describes the challenges of independent filmmaking and the arduous journey to get to the bottom of fracking. Speaking her mind, Jolynn shares her views on the risks and benefits of shale gas extraction and questions whether or not this form of energy production fits into future energy economies.

Getting To The Bottom Of Fracking

Unearthed was recently featured on RSG’s EkoForum. Christine Wessels spoke to the director, Jolynn Minnaar, to find out more about the project and the findings that have been uncovered during the 18 month investigation. Below is a translated, transcribed version.


Christine: Jolynn, we’re sitting here at Zootee Studios in Cape Town where you are busy with the post-production on a documentary you’ve produced called ‘Unearthed’ that investigates hydraulic fracturing. Over the last year, we have all been holding our breath to see what happens with regards to fracking in South Africa.

Jolynn: During the past 18 months, prior to making a decision on whether or not to allow hydraulic fracturing, the South African government decided to conduct more research and declared a moratorium on all license applications. This year, on the 7th of September, the moratorium was lifted and now the various companies can apply for exploration rights to test for possible shale gas reservoirs in the Karoo.

Christine: The documentary, ‘Unearthed’, how did that come to fruition?

Jolynn: It all began in April 2011. I stumbled across the word ‘fracking’ in a newspaper and an innocent, inquisitive streak ended up prompting the project . Having done some research and realizing there was a severe lack of information impeding a broader public discussion on the matter, I was concerned that those responsible for making the decisions about fracking were in no position to make an open, inclusive, informed decision. One of the main obstructions in accessing information is due to the fact that the only existing shale gas model is in America. This is a problem if you’re situated in South Africa or Europe and you’re trying to understand what it is about and decide whether or not it is good idea to pursue. So, I set off to see what the whole saga is about.

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Fracking Fears Run Deep in the Karoo

During the 1960s, with the hopes of finding oil, the state-owned company, Soekor, embarked on a series of exploration wells in the Karoo region of South Africa. In 1967, one was drilled on Skietfontein, a farm in the Aberdeen district. According to Andre Els, a former Soekor employee who worked on this site, after reaching a depth of 4000 metres, they lost the drilling fluid that contained compounds such as bentonite, chrome lignosulfonate and caustic soda. Six weeks later, over 30 km away on a farm near Klipplaat, a farmer noticed a discoloration in his borehole. Responding to the complaint, Els visited the farm to inspect.  The water contained chrome lignosulfonate. With no possibility for this powerful deflocculant to be naturally occurring nor any other drilling taking place in the area, the drilling fluid had swiftly migrated over 30km and made its way to a water source. The unexplored deep geology of the Karoo briefly made itself known.

Fast-forward around 50 years and you’ll find the same area currently being eyed out for “fracking”, or, to avoid falling into the wordplay trap,  more accurately referred to as shale gas extraction.

Why is the correlation between the Soekor wells of yesteryear and today’s applications for unconventional gas extraction important?

Meet Professor Gerrit van Tonder, a leading geohydrologist from the UFS Institute for Groundwater Studies who is better known in recent months as the Pro-fracking Professor who did a U-turn. Originally optimistic about shale gas extraction, van Tonder backtracked in June to warn that fracking would severely impact underground water supplies. Together with his doctoral student, Fanie de lange, they looked at the Soekor wells in order to anticipate the outcomes of shale gas extraction in the same region. In the area that Shell, Falcon and Bundu, have applied for drilling rights, there are 14 Soekor holes. Thus far, five of those are leaking fluids to the surface.

How is this possible? Don’t fluids stay put underground the way
well-behaved dinosaur juice should?

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A first in SA: Unearthed Switches To Solar

This blog post comes to you from an office proudly powered by the sun!

The ever enterprising Zootee Studios, the powerhouse behind Unearthed, has recently completed the installation of solar panels with the help of Southern Sun Solar.  This is one of the first grid-tie solar projects in South Africa and Zootee is the first solar-powered film studio in the country. With Eskom recently announcing a 16% tariff increase and concerns around climate change reach boiling point, Zootee Studios welcomes this significant shift and joins growing international investment in the renewable sector.

The Middle East is actively pursuing renewable energy:  Quatar has just announced a solar target of 1.8 GW by 2014; Djibouti anticipates 100% renewable energy by 2030 and Saudi Arabia is aiming for 41 GW of solar by 2032. With plans to transition to renewables entirely, Prince Turki of the Saudi Royal Family has stated that Saudi Arabia‘s oil reserves may be better put to use in devotion to the manufacture of materials such as polymers, plastics and fertilisers rather than simply being used for fuel and that the transition to large scale renewable generation could facilitate this. Prince Turki recently announced:

“Oil is more precious for us underground than as a fuel source. If we can get to the point where we can replace fossil fuels and use oil to produce other products that are useful, that would be very good for the world.”

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