Unearthed: Looking Back on 2011


A message from the Director:

As we near the end of December, I would like to, albeit briefly, put down the camera, switch off the dictaphone and look back on the year that was. 2011 saw the start of the un•earthed journey – one that has been been filled with investigative breakthroughs, frozen cameras, hospital visits and everything in between. The world of independent filmmaking is a precarious one and without any funding or formal crew, un•earthed is eternally grateful for the help of many people along the way.

On the production side of things, I would like to thank Zootee Productions without whom, the documentary would have come to nothing but a pile of research papers and some moleskin scribblings. Stacey Keppler and Fahema Hendricks survived arduous journeys on Eastern Cape roads, braved subzero temperatures and have put up with me spending all-nighters in the edit suite, continually depleting the coffee jar. Keeping it in the family, Ivor Keppler has also kindly made it possible for the project to expand into what it is today. Donald Nyahuye has generously donated many hours to work on the edit and Dylan Scullard, Max Milne, Matthew Jones and Mike Metlerkamp have also selflessly shared their time and skill.

Equally as important, I would like to thank the endless list of contributors. Owing to disclosure reasons, I am only able to publish the full list of interviewees when the documentary is released but, for now, where I cannot specify names, I hope that the somewhat general descriptions will suffice:

  • The numerous academics or specialized professionals – both in South Africa and the United States – who welcomed me into their offices and spent hours expanding on various intricacies and considerations around shale gas development and the process of hydraulic fracturing. The list includes biologists, biochemists, climatologists, geologists, engineers, economists, ecologists, energy experts, legal advisors, medical practitioners, petrochemical consultants, toxicologists, veterinarians, water experts and an array of others.

Prof Anthony Ingraffea
Prof Robert Howarth
Prof Lawrence Cathels
Dr Sandra Steingraber
Dr Ronald Bishop
Dr Robert Oswald
Dr Michelle Bamberger
Dr Earl Robinson
Kevin Hitley, Ted Stroder

Prof Brian Kantor
Prof Philip Lloyd
Prof Chris Hartnady
Prof Harro von Blottnitz
Dr Ake Fagerang
Dr David Gaynor
Dr Roy Stauth
Gareth Morgan, Derek Light, Jeremy Taylor and many others.

  • Those in the energy industry for allowing me an opportunity to meet with you and ensuring all-round representation in the documentary.

Here, I am particularly grateful to Mark Boling from SouthWestern Energy and Fred Palmer from Royal Dutch Shell for their time and valuable assistance.

  • Those I met that work or have worked in and around the field of shale gas development – from previous industry executives and investors to welders on the gas field, from those in regulatory agencies to the truck drivers the entire process depends on.

Lou Allstadt, James Northrup, Wes Wilson, Judy Jordan, Krys Cail, Nick Schoonover, Noel van Swol, Susan O Handley amongst others.

  • The farmers and townsfolk living in and around gas industry activities in Pennsylvania, New York and Colorado, I truly appreciate you showing me around your area, welcoming me into your homes and sharing your thoughts or experiences.

To name but a few: Craig and Julie Sautner, Ron and Jean Carter, Ronald Gulla, Terry Greenwood, Frank Finan,  Ines Moss, James Stewart, Michael Hold, Dean Marshall, the Bobersky family, the Compton family, Barbara Jarmoska, Ralph Kisberg, Carolyn Knapp, Carol French, Sherri, Michael Philips, Jeff and Jod Andrysick, Jack Ossont, Art Hunt, Ken Jaffy, Maura Stephens, Silas Jackson, Kate Bartholomew, Ellen Harrison, Karen Edelstein and Rick Roles.

  • On the South African front, a thank you to Eskom, the Department of Energy, the Department of Minerals and Resources and PASA for assisting with information.
  • To the locals of the Karoo and broader lying areas, whether farmers or town residents, thank you for voicing your opinions.

This list could go on for a while but I must acknowledge Hendrik Wolfaardt, Doug Stern, Lukie Strydom, Jan and Millie Lottering, James Plaag, Graham Lord, Pat Downey, Kate Nelson, Dora Olifant, Danlyn, Pikkie and the members of the Sneeuberg Emerging Farmers Association.


The intense research behind un•earthed would prove a challenge were it not for the tireless work done by many investigative journalists and media professionals across the world. At the risk of neglecting to name others in the field, I would like to recognize the work done by Ian Urbina for the New York Times. Although I feel that the matter requires more in-depth deliberation in the South African media, views expressed by Ivo Vegter and Andreas Spath, amongst others, have contributed to the overall discussion that so desperately needs to take place in the country. On the subject of media, one cannot overlook the work done by Josh Fox (Gasland) and other filmmakers such as Deb Anderson (Split Estate) and Greg Kellenberg (Haynesville). While aspects of their work have been criticized on local soil, it would be naive to overlook the role that these documentaries have had in bringing the practice of natural gas development and its broader context into the public sphere where important questions need asking and answering.

On this note, I would like to acknowledge all those who are contributing to the discourse around not only natural gas extraction but the world’s energy future at large. It is crucial to allow and encourage an informed, inclusive and multidisciplinary discussion on these complicated topics to ensure that all voices are heard, equally considered and following this, judicious conclusions can be drawn. Failing this, many key governmental decisions are at risk of being partial, rushed or poorly informed. Thus, whether it via investigative reporting, filmmaking, social media, radio shows the like of Space Camp Radio, artists such as L.Revolution, B.B Beatriz Ramirez and Vanessa Bley or initiatives like Pedal Power NYC, I salute all those across the world who are contributing to the debate outside of the mainstream channels – your work ensures that a national energy plan remains carefully calculated, responsible and transparent.

Before closing, there are a few names that do need specific mention. I am hugely indebted to Hilary Acton from Ithaca for giving up so much of her time to make it possible to shoot in New York and Pennsylvania. Similarly, Tara Meixsell welcomed me to Garfield County, Colorado, and introduced me to the production of natural gas out west. In South Africa, the list goes on but I am grateful to Kendrah de Silva for helping me in Johannesburg and Glenn Meyer and Cleone Cull who so kindly came to my aid in Port Elizabeth when it seemed that months of exhaustion had finally caught up with me.

I would also like to take an opportunity to thank my family and friends for all the support and understanding. I know that I have been missing for most part of the year and, on the odd occasion that I do reappear, conversation is usually weighed down by the rather onerous task that is a documentary investigating something as complex and controversial as fracking. I could assure you that the next project will be more lighthearted but we all know that would be a lie (luckily for me, you guys are okay with that).

Lastly, I would like to thank you. By reading this article, you have come to know about un•earthed and have shared in a moment of its making. Perhaps you are one of the many, from across the world, that email on a daily basis enquiring about information or sharing new findings. Perhaps you are one of the many friendly strangers I have encountered along the way – the lady in Denver who pointed a lost South African in the right direction or the man from Ireland who sent me three years worth of newspaper clippings. Either way, I am overwhelmed by the generous support that un•earthed experienced this year.

Originally intended to be a short sideline project merely for online release, I still find myself reeling when I reflect on the momentum, and subsequent expansion, the project gained over the past months. I look forward to what 2012 has in store for un•earthed – a couple of more grueling months in post-production and then, coming to some sort of screen near you.

Until then, let us remember that our society needs energy and economic development and, in light of ever-decreasing natural resources, the way in which these demands are secured must be thoroughly considered. Let us call for the independent science investigating the procedures around natural gas development but understand that reliable data and test results are often forestalled by declarations of proprietary information and the prevalence of non-disclosure agreements used in cases of alleged contamination. Let us work through all the half-truths, myths and unsubstantiated claims in order for us to ask the right questions that need urgent response. Let us carry out a thorough risk-benefit analysis that is heedful to all the sides of the argument. And perhaps, most importantly, let us allow enough time for all of the above to take place before drawing conclusions.


May 2012 exceed all your expectations as 2011 did mine.