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.


Read More

Unearthed Contributors:

Below are the incredible donors who pledged support in our recent Indiegogo fundraising campaign. From all corners of the globe, these independent backers helped Unearthed continue its investigation into fracking and have allowed the project to expand internationally.

NEW VIDEO: Unearthed – The Fracking Facade

We took a quick break from the official documentary to set the record straight.
Unearthed: The Fracking Facade unpacks a claim often abused when promoting shale gas development across the world.

“In a history of 60 years, after nearly a million wells drilled, there are no documented cases that prove that hydraulic fracturing has contaminated water supplies.”

Featuring some of our US interviewees: Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, Lou Allstadt, James Northrup, Dr Ronald Bishop and community members from Pennsylvania.


Our eternal gratitude

With the generous backing from supporters across the globe, Unearthed raised over $5500 in its recent funding campaign!
These funds will help Unearthed broaden its investigative scope and return to the United States for a final round of filming.

We have no words to express our sincere gratitude.


Weekend Post: Film Seeks To Unearth Fracking Facts


Scant information on process prompted filmmaker to go digging, Weekend Post reporter Shaanaaz de Jager writes.

An Eastern Cape filmmaker desperate to find answers on the highly contentious fracking issue is releasing a documentary which aims to inform the public on the pros and cons of drilling for shale gas. Having travelled extensively across her home district of the Karoo as well as to the United States, Jolynn Minnaar, 23, founder and director of Unearthed Motion Pictures, “stumbled across fracking” more than a year ago but became frustrated with how little information there was on the process.

To read more: Weekend Post: Film seeks to unearth fracking facts

A Sidelined Society: The sales pitch, seclusion and secrecy around shale gas

Unearthed director, Jolynn Minnaar, spoke at the 2nd Shale Gas Conference held in Johannesburg yesterday. Entitled A Sidelined Society: The sales pitch, seclusion and secrecy around shale gas, her address unpacked the flawed sales pitch presented to South Africa, illustrated the seclusion of rural communities being targeted for gas extraction and revealed the devastating prevalence of non-disclosure agreements that have bought the natural gas industry a spotless track record of “no documented cases of contamination”.

Here are her final words:


Owing to the fact that the South African government serves as a custodian of all of our mineral rights – here I would like to stress custodian – not owner – it is imperative that the citizens are able to access and participate in the decisions that are being made on their behalf.

In closing, I would like to return to my premise that a national energy plan should be:

  • Transparent and accountable to its citizens
  • Informed by a thorough cost-benefit analysis that has taken place in an open, inclusive manner with ALL interested and affected parties’ views equally weighed
  • Finely calculated for the long-term, sustainable interest of the country

As I have shown it is quite clear that we have failed to achieve this.

In fact, if this conference represents where we are in the debate as a country, I am gravely disappointed. Just looking at the speaker program, how could it possibly claim to be one that is “evaluating the potential for shale gas development from all sides of the debate”? It is clear that most of you have decided on your stance – or have a direct financial interest in – in going ahead with shale gas. But that does not mean this debate should follow your agenda. With the majority of speakers and panelists from gas companies – how, over a four day conference are only five hours devoted to “looking at the other side” of shale gas extraction? And, with all due respect, how can Professor Terry Engelder – with a clear, well-known bias toward the gas industry – be the chairman of these discussions?

Where are the other academics, on par with experience or knowledge as those speaking here, that have voiced concern over unconventional gas development? Where are the medical academics to represent the growing international calls from doctors and specialists to put a pause to fracking?  Where are the economists raising alarm over the impacts of deliberately over-estimating resources; the disruption of existing economies; the boom-bust scenarios in drilling communities and the enormous externalities that come with gas development? And answer me this, where are the members of the Karoo community?

As I have said, I am not here representing environmentalists nor the energy industry. I am here as an independent journalist fighting for open, accurate information and a debate that allows everyone to voice their opinion on an equal platform. Yet in all the presentations I have been listening to, based on my research and consulting with people in the US, many issues have been understated or overlooked. So, now, due to the poor representation in the list of speakers, it is down to me to argue on behalf of the medical experts? On behalf of the growing academia arguing that natural gas is not “a cleaner fuel” nor a wise move for a country that is desperately seeking to reduce its carbon emissions? Really?

How are we, as a country, to base our decision on whether or not to go ahead with shale gas development when conferences such as these are still taking place more than two years after ‘fracking’ entered local discourse?

Today I shared only some of findings with you and these issues I have raised in my personal capacity as a journalist.  But I hope that it has been clear in my references and interview excerpts that I am not speaking only for myself. I speak for the hundreds of people calling for an open, inclusive, multi-disciplinary debate on fracking who don’t have R10 000 to get inside. Today, I speak for the thousands of people in the Karoo who have never even heard of you or your plans for gas extraction. Today I am James Plaag,  I am Andries Lottering. And you need to value my voice as much as you do that of Professor Engelder or Chris Faulkner.

For, if you don’t, my premise falls away and a national energy strategy starts becoming confused with a corporate business plan.


Unearthed questions survey on public opinion of fracking

A recent survey carried out by ISPOS reveals some South Africans favours Karoo gas exploration but want more information on job creation, environment and electricity supply.

Although most adult South Africans were unaware of the possible exploration for natural gas in the Karoo, when introduced to the concept, the majority said that they are in favour of determining the presence of natural gas in the Karoo. Respondents wanted the pressing issues of job creation, economic development and environmental concerns to be addressed in the process. The prospect of natural gas development creating a reliable domestic energy source that would give more South Africans access to electricity was also of paramount importance.

These were the main findings of an opinion poll conducted by Ipsos for Shell during August and September 2011. Ipsos polled more than 2,000 South Africans on exploration for natural gas in the Karoo Basin.  Face-to-face interviews allowed the interviewers to describe, inform and question respondents on shale gas, the process of hydraulic fracturing, their views on Shell and their hopes for South Africa.


un•earthed questions the validity of the findings on the grounds of the study being funded by Shell, one of the companies seeking gas exploration rights in the Karoo. With this in mind, it would be important to understand how hydraulic fracturing or the risks and benefits around natural gas drilling were explained to the survey participants in the Karoo, who, as this study shows, are largely unaware of any plans of for gas extraction.

The study says that “interviewers (had) to describe, inform and question respondents on shale gas, the process of hydraulic fracturing, their views on Shell and their hopes for South Africa.”

Thus, where respondents had never heard of ‘fracking’ an explanation was given to them  in order to complete the survey. If the interviewers were working on behalf of Shell and had to express “hopes for South Africa” in their explanation, it casts doubt on the partiality of the survey and questions its results.


To see the full IPSOS press release, follow this link:

Ipsos – News release Final February 2012 (4)


UPDATE: Feb, 20, 2012 at 14h10

Here is more information about the IPSOS survey that was funded by Shell. In the documents you can see the questions that were asked to the participants, many of whom, have never heard of fracking or the proposed plans to explore for gas in their area.


To see the official IPSOS report, follow this link:

Ipsos -Future Energy Report Final Feb 2012

To see a graphic layout of the IPSOS findings, follow this link:

Ipsos – Polling slide pack 20 Feb 2012