Fracking scary: a review of “Unearthed”

Our world is warming, thanks to us humans. That is what the science says (even if the cranks might beg to differ). And yet what do we do? We continue to hunt for ways to get our fossil fuel fix.

One of those ways is hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – when water and chemicals are pumped deep into the ground, forcing gas to the surface.

When filmmaker Jolynn Minnaar heard there was potentially large shale gas deposits in the water-scarce Karoo, she was excited about the economic boon that extracting this would potentially prove to the region she had grown up in – a region with 37% poverty and 25% unemployment. Especially since energy companies kept insisting that there were no proven cases of ill effects from fracking.

She then got a call from an American who invited her to visit and see the impact it has had on him, his family, and his property. She never does end up meeting Jeremiah Gee (all of a sudden he refuses to talk to her). But, in her remarkable journey across the US, she meets plenty of other people who are prepared to chat to her: people whose lives have been changed for the worse because of this industry.

As she traverses devastated landscapes, Minnaar scrapes past the glossy veneer of PR bullshit to witness first-hand the poisoned air and contaminated water that are making people sick.

Fracking has been hailed as the solution to South Africa’s energy scarcity and poverty. Minnaar’s carefully researched, beautifully shot documentary shows us that this “solution” will have devastating consequences for the Karoo and those who live in it.

This review first appeared in July in 2015 in CUE, the National Arts Festival’s newspaper. Unearthed was part of the 2015 festival’s film programme. Watch it here.

POSTSCRIPT (September 2016): The collapse of the oil price thankfully has made fracking in the Karoo a far less attractive proposition to energy companies. That doesn’t mean we should lose our vigilance, though.  Eventually oil prices will increase to the point where fracking becomes viable again. Ruling party politicians, keen for new sources of enrichment, are likely to encourage such efforts. Unearthed continues to be a crucial and moving reminder of why the Karoo should be left alone. 

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