News / Africa

New Documentary Spotlights Fracking in Southern Africa

FILE - Cracked earth is seen in the South African Karoo, which energy companies are reportedly eying for fracking.
FILE - Cracked earth is seen in the South African Karoo, which energy companies are reportedly eying for fracking.
Anita Powell
U.S. filmmaker Jeff Barbee was working on a story in South Africa’s Karoo desert when a map crossed his desk. What he saw shocked him - oil and gas concessions across the arid, sparsely populated nation of Botswana. He travelled to the country and found evidence that the government had allowed fracking in sensitive areas - and not told anyone about it. This week, he unveiled his movie in Johannesburg - and details of the fracking, which involves major multinational corporations.
 
The new film, The High Cost of Cheap Gas, paints a bleak portrait of a technology that has been hailed as a bridge to a future of clean energy.
 
For American filmmaker Jeff Barbee, that picture is personal. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has in the last few decades spread like wildfire across his home state of Colorado. In the hour-long documentary, Barbee shuttles between the U.S. and his adopted home in southern Africa to draw parallels and to show Africans in resource-rich nations what their future may look like.
 
It is not a pretty picture. In the film, ranchers in Colorado say they had to leave the business because fracking ruined their water supply. Residents report illness that they believe is created by fracking. Medical experts cite serious dangers from the chemical by-products released.
 
This, Barbee says, could be Africa’s future too.
 
The documentary exposes a little-known fact: that the government of Botswana has for years been quietly granting oil and gas concessions in remote areas.
 
Barbee spoke to officials from Sasol, a South Africa-based energy giant, who talk about their projects in the region. The film uses hidden cameras to show what appear to be fracking activities in national parks in Botswana.
 
Botswana’s government initially denied allowing fracking.  But last week, in response to the documentary, it issued a statement acknowledging that some sub-surface fracturing had been allowed.
 
Despite a heavily negative portrayal, Barbee says the film is not anti-fracking, but rather an attempt to educate residents on the pros and cons.
 
“One of the things we hope to achieve with this film is that it would really create an international dialogue about this unsustainable industry and whether or not  it is a suitable transition fuel that will take us into a greener energy future, or one that is just the last dying throes of an industry desperate to stay alive,” says Barbee.
 
Fracking is a technique that uses high-pressure water and chemicals to break underground rocks to release oil or gas. Critics of fracking say it is noisy, that it creates air pollution and can contaminate water. Supporters say it is safe and creates jobs while also addressing energy needs.
 
Fracking’s broader implications 
 
Mozambique-based conservationist Allan Schwarz attended Tuesday’s special screening in Johannesburg. Schwarz says the film has implications beyond just one country.
 
“This movie is about opening that dialogue, getting people who care, and also people who have the scientific understanding and skill, doing the research independently to talk to each other and to make sure that we understand the consequences of basically breaking up the substructure of our landscape to extract hydrocarbons,” says Schwarz.
 
The consequences in his adopted home country of Mozambique, Schwartz says, are not positive.
 
“The fracking at this stage is exploratory, and it’s happening on the borders of South Africa and Zimbabwe, And the consequences there at this stage [are] that it’s providing money to a kleptocratic government. It does not provide any work at all for anybody on the ground who is local, but it is a massive amount of money that is coming in,” says Schwarz.
 
A diplomat from Botswana’s embassy also attended Tuesday’s screening and was clearly critical of the film’s claims but he declined to be interviewed.
 
Barbee acknowledged that there may be a balance between cost and benefit - but that that conversation needs to start with solid facts. He noted that many pro-fracking studies have been financed by the oil and gas industry, and that his film only used independent research.
 
“This is a baseline where we can all have a communal conversation focused on the facts. Yes, there will be jobs, but those jobs may be more temporary than the industry and government may be willing to admit. Yes, there are environmental impacts, but maybe they’re not as bad as some environmentalists say. Yes, in fact this industry can go forward safely in some areas here, but maybe not in the protected national parks which have been set aside for decades for the future of humanity,” said Barbee.
 
The film will debut publicly next week in Johannesburg.

You May Like

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisisi
X
March 06, 2015 12:28 AM
There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Winter Weather Strikes Eastern US...Again!

A new wintry blast has hit more than 20 states in the U.S. Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, adding more snow to the piles from previous storms. Tired of shoveling snow, breaking the ice and dealing with accidents, flight delays and property damage, most Americans hope this is the last bout of cold for the season. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Myanmar's Traditional Fashion Choices Endure

The sartorial choices of Myanmar’s men and women quickly catch the eye of any visitor to the tropical Southeast Asian country. But at a time when Myanmar’s political and economic opening is bringing affordable western fashions to the masses, will the country’s unique fashion trends endure? VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Yangon explores that question.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More