Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Unearthed – Movie Review

Unearthed, a South African documentary about fracking (not to be confused with a 2007 horror movie of the same title) is showing at the 2015 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. I saw it at 10:00 am Tuesday 7 July; I recommend trying to catch it if you missed the first showing.

I have seen a fair amount of material about fracking, attended protests, and so on. And one thing always strikes me.

Fracking has a bad name. Literally. The word sounds threatening and vaguely obscene. Apologists protest that fracking – hydraulic fracturing to give it its full name – can’t be that harmful because breaking up rock a few kilometres below ground can’t be that harmful. Groundwater after all is at most a few tens of metres below ground.

This movie goes on a journey not to dissimilar to my own – the pro arguments are carefully presented, then carefully dismantled.

Yes, world energy demand is escalating. But promises of massive gas yields from shale gas have proved illusory. In one scene, the promise of jobs is neatly demolished. A women has been working a few weeks, and expects to be out of work again by September. The date of the scene isn’t given, but the job clearly could not have gone on more than 9 months.

Just a few higlights:
  • politicians and industry sources claim there is not a single documented link between fracking and harmful consequences – this claim is laid bare for the dishonesty behind it. For one thing, the victims for whom consequences could be documented are routinely paid off in exchange for non-disclosure. For another, “fracking” narrowly defined is just the deep underground fracturing of rock, not the whole process of drilling, casing the shaft and operating the well – all of which are much more hazardous than fracking per se.
  • fracked wells deplete fast, in as little as 4 years, meaning that they are quickly abandoned and an abandoned well can continue to leak to the environment for decades
  • the claim that the industry has been fracking for 60 years is true but grossly misleading as the current practice involving horizontal drilling and in general aggressive techniques to extract gas from marginal resources only dates back to the 1990s; rather than millions of well using fracking, current practice has only been tested over a few tens of thousands of wells
There is a lot more than this – parts touch on climate change, and we see numerous health effects of the by-products of fracked wells.

If you really want to understand the fracking debate, see this movie. Jolynn Minnaar: you have done a far better job than Josh Fox’s Gasland. I hope this movie is widely seen. And we put a stop to this before it wrecks the Karoo.

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