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.