Unearthed: Status Update

In view of the imminent expiration of the moratorium on shale gas drilling in South Africa and to accommodate recent international expansion for the documentary, un•earthed has done some reshuffling. Below is a quick breakdown outlining the change of plans.


“Fracking” enters the South African dialogue

Toward the end of 2010, news surfaced of various fuel companies expressing interest in exploring the Karoo region of South Africa for natural gas. Ever since, the proposed plans and process of hydraulic fracturing have been at the centre of many heated discussions across the country. On the 21 April 2011, the South African government passed a moratorium on all applications pending further investigation into the matter by a governmental task team. On the 21 August 2011, a six-month extension was announced by the Minister of Minerals and Resources, Susan Shabangu, allowing the team more time for research and public consultation.  The moratorium expires in February when a decision is expected on whether the South African government will allow gas exploration or again suspend activity for further deliberation.


Beyond the workings of governmental task team

While un•earthed has tirelessly followed the issue unfold in the country, various reasons have made it clear that South Africa cannot afford to limit the discussion around possibly pursuing shale gas development in the country:

  • There is a considerable lack of experience and specialized expertise on natural gas extraction in the country
  • The government serves as a custodian of mineral rights and, as a result, the channels of communication between gas industry and the public becomes limited (in comparison to countries where mineral rights are in the hands of the landowner).
  • In order to evaluate whether all “interested and affected parties” would be properly consulted with and within the timeframe set by the moratorium.
  • Too many vested interests – from economists to environmentalists; hydrologists to legal experts; energy consultants to rural Karoo communities – surround this complex issue for it to be debated between a select few or in closed conferences.
  • To encourage a thorough risk-benefit analysis that pays fair attention to all these vested interests.
  • Ultimately, to ensure that a national energy plan is a responsible and transparent one.


In light of these circumstances, in addition to the workings of the governmental task team, an inclusive and multi-disciplinary debate on the matter should be encouraged in the South African public. This would promote further research, the arrival of new insights, and, ultimately, ensure that the decisions due to be made by those in leadership are finely calculated, informed and responsible.

However, various factors have threatened such progress. Poor communication from companies pursuing gas development, a lack of transparency from Government and insufficient research in the general media have left the public poorly informed, if, at all. At the same time, opposing parties in the country, those in favour of drilling and those who disapprove, have risked polarizing the debate and, in doing so, jeopardize its progression.


South Africa: A Country at Crossroads

So, one must ask: Where does South Africa stand right now – a month before the expiration of the moratorium on shale gas exploration?

By looking at what the documentary has uncovered after a year of thorough research, widespread consultation and a large array of interviews, the answer is that the country is in grave danger of failing to ask the right questions that need urgent response. Some issues around ‘fracking’ have been exaggerated, others understated or, more worryingly, completely overlooked. At the same time, the debate has been rushed forestalling adequate research, proper procedure and acceptable consultation with members of the public.


un•earthed: Action and Adjustments

With this in mind, where does un•earthed stand right now?

As you may know, the project is currently in post-production. Over two hundred hours of footage is being edited into a feature documentary providing South Africa with a sound understanding of what gas development entails. Concurrently, over the past months, the findings in the documentary have sparked an overwhelming interest from all over the world. This global anticipation has seen un•earthed expand into a project that investigates shale gas development and its method of ‘fracking’ on an international level. With plans in place to visit other countries either considering or currently extracting natural gas, the documentary will further its commitment to fully investigate the entire context of shale gas development. However, in order to accommodate this expansion, more time would be required before the documentary is officially released and as a result, possibly threaten the project’s original intentions – to play a role in the current debate around shale gas drilling in South Africa.

As such, after hours of serious consideration and planning, un•earthed would like to announce a slight change in plans:


  • un•earthed: An Interim Intervention

In view of the urgency that South Africa currently faces with regards to the moratorium reaching its end, attention will be focused on a shorter “mini-documentary” presenting key issues that need to be investigated and weighed up in order to ensure that responsible, informed decisions are made in February. This short project will be made available online within the next few weeks. In addition to the video and our online presence via Facebook and Twitter, we are planning many talks over the next two months to encourage open, accurate discussion and to ensure that the majority of people, especially those in the Karoo, who have never heard of ‘fracking’ understand what the procedure entails. If you would like to arrange a screening, a copy of the video or a seminar on the matters it raises, feel free to send an email to unearthed.thedocumentary@gmail.com


  • un•earthed: The Official Documentary

Once this has been achieved, our energy will return to the official documentary allowing un•earthed to follow through with the aforementioned global expansion. As you have noticed, nothing is ever certain when producing independent documentaries, so while a date cannot be confirmed, we are pushing for a mid-year release.


Unearthed: At the forefront of information

A key driving force initiating Unearthed in January 2011 was the need to address the paucity of information surrounding the proposed plans to explore the Karoo and broader regions for natural gas.  Generally speaking, a lack of transparency from those pursuing gas development; poor communication from Government and limited research in the media left the public poorly informed, if, at all. As a result, interested and affected parties have been unable to access the necessary facts to stimulate and participate in productive discussion about the risks and benefits in exploring and, possibly producing, the country’s potential shale gas resources.

In seeking to remedy this, Unearthed has worked tirelessly over the past eight months to uncover the facts and examine all the various angles. The project is dedicated to an accurate, comprehensive study into the matter and, in doing so, providing a level-headed, informed voice in the various debates on natural gas, its development and potential use in South Africa’s energy future. During this investigation, Unearthed was privileged to spend five weeks on an intense fact-finding itinerary in the states of Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York.

On returning from the United States, armed with fresh, fine-tuned information and firsthand experience of gas development and the procedure of hydraulic fracturing, Unearthed is in an advanced position to further its commitment to empower the citizens of South Africa –  whether residents in the Karoo, industry members or decision makers in government – with the results of a thorough, impartial investigation.

Unearthed is currently in its closing stages; one or two final interviews and trips to areas outlined for gas exploration followed by an intense round of editing and post-production. During the interim prior to release, as part of our commitment to disseminate information, please feel free to contact Unearthed if you have any queries – firstly, on the project itself but also, on the matter of shale gas development at large. Unearthed director, Jolynn Minnaar, has presented her findings at various meetings in South Africa and has aided numerous journalists, academic researchers and interested persons in investigating the array of complex issues surrounding the production of natural gas, both abroad and locally. Please address any questions to info@un-earthed.com

An update to this article available here

Unearthed: Documentary to show fracking full picture

By Richard Clarke

Graaff-Reinet – Owing to the fact that South Africa has little or no history of gas extraction, let alone that of hydraulic fracturing, the fracking debate in South Africa is impeded by a lack of information, hands-on experience and case studies in comparison to the United States. Trying to find an expert on hydraulic fracturing in South Africa has therefore been like a hunt for a teardrop in a waterfall.

It is slowly changing but the fact remains that South Africa might just go in for this fracking gamble after only a few months of research in to the dangers and risks that hydraulic fracturing poses to people, water and the environment.

Director Jolynn Minnaar is looking at altering that imbalance and getting as much information out into the public domain as possible via her documentary, Unearthed. It has been in the pipeline for a while and Minnaar, born and bred in the Karoo, recently travelled to the United States to engage in an extended fact-finding mission around the intricacies of shale gas development.

“We need to stop using half-truths and get the full picture of what is going on with the plans to implement hydraulic fracturing here in South Africa. An obstacle to a comprehensive public debate around fracking issues and risks is the industry jargon which precludes most of the population from the discussion as they are unable to unpack the exact definitions of words and combinations of words used,” says Minnaar.

Minnaar also stressed that those opposing Shell and the other companies, should be lobbying to government, getting the relevant documentation and playing the field of legislation. Other questions raised by Minnaar included the moratorium on applications for exploration not having actually been officially gazetted and why the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs and Agriculture have been excluded from the task team carrying out the investigation.

The documentary is currently in post-production and Minnaar says that they are waiting on the decision from the government’s appointed task team before making the documentary available to the public. The inital target is starting in town halls, community centres and other venues across the Karoo.

The following statement places this documentary in the space between pro and anti-fracking sides and will make the project a welcome addition to the country’s debate on the topic in the future:

Unearthed is proudly committed to its principles of thorough research and will continue to provide a platform whereupon all sides of the argument can be addressed.”


Unearthed on RSG Radio

Director Jolynn Minnaar speaks on behalf of the Unearthed team in an interview with RSG radio in South Africa. She speaks briefly of her findings in the United States – the key interviews and experiences in and around the American shale gas industry – and how Unearthed is dedicated to bringing the facts home in order to aid productive discussion under the moratorium.


Unearthed sits in on Ingraffea radio debate

After interviewing Anthony Ingraffea, Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, at Cornell University, Unearthed joined Ingraffea in the radio studio for a debate on hydraulic fracturing between himself, Ian Urbina (New York Times), Seamus McGraw (author of The End of the Country) and John Hanger (former Sec of the DEP).

Listen to the podcast here:


Unearthed: NEW VIDEO – As It Stands In South Africa

An updated trailer displaying some of Unearthed‘s most recent work.

Loaded with information, the video presents the current situation in South Africa as investigated by the independent team. Unearthed is committed to thorough research and uncovering all the facts around the proposed implementation of hydraulic fracturing in South Africa.


Fracking: As it stands in South Africa from Unearthed on Vimeo.

Unearthed commended by Member of Parliament

Last week, Unearthed spoke to Gareth Morgan of the Democratic Alliance, Member of Parliament and the National Assembly and Shadow Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs.

We discussed the current state of the moratorium in South Africa and he shared his viewpoints from a governmental perspective. Issued at the end of April 2011, the moratorium called for further investigation into the matter of gas exploration. A task team, set up under the Department of Mineral Resources, is to carry out this research and present its findings to the relevant authorities.

Morgan stressed the importance of the moratorium phase as a critical time for further study into the unintended consequences around the fracturing process. He drew attention to the current legislation around mining in South Africa and the interpretation of these laws as they pertain to gas exploration. Morgan stressed the necessity for careful research that considers the country’s energy future in its analysis.

Morgan commended Unearthed’s academic, objective approach and its independent investigation into the matter of ‘fracking’ in South Africa. Aside from uncovering the facts, Morgan noted that the documentary would serve as a key study exploring the way in which South African citizens are able to communicate their opinions on matters of personal concern or national importance. Morgan encouraged the project as a case-study of everyday South Africans calling for more information and open discussion and, in doing so, ensuring the health of our democracy.