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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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

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 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.