Film documents environmental impacts of fracking

World Today

A new documentary on hydraulic fracturing examines the impact of the process executed by multi-national gas companies. South Africa has been exploring the option of fracking to meet its growing energy needs, but there been a public outcry over the environmental damage that it inflicts. Sumitra Nydoo reported this story from Johannesburg.

Film documents environmental impacts of fracking

A new documentary on hydraulic fracturing examines the impact of the process executed by multi-national gas companies. South Africa has been exploring the option of fracking to meet its growing energy needs, but there been a public outcry over the environmental damage that it inflicts. Sumitra Nydoo reported this story from Johannesburg.

‘The High Cost of Cheap Gas’ is a documentary that highlights the environmental impact on areas where fracking has been done. While fracking comes with the promise of jobs and economic growth, communities are not always told about the negative effects it will have on the environment.

“The dangers of fracking are much more profound than the dangers of creating say a very large coal mine because these projects stretch out over such a huge area and they have impacts on every aspect of the ecosystem,” Jeffery Barbee, producer of ‘The High Cost of Cheap Gas’ said.

The movie has documented areas in New Mexico and Colorado where the fracking process has continued for 25 years. The film focuses on the premise that these areas have turned into environmental wastelands with water and air pollution affecting the health of people and animals that inhabit the region.

“Once it becomes financially unviable to continue, they sell the fracking rig and all the infrastructure that comes with it, down to smaller companies,” Human rights lawyer Mira Dutschke said. “That’s where it becomes really difficult to manage oversight and accountability because lots of these small companies don’t have the skills and expertise to manage these operations safely.”

The economic benefits once promised could disappear if the areas become abandoned by gas companies.

“In the States, the projected economic benefits did not actually materialize to the extent that they were promised. Sure they were some people that made a lot of money in the short term, but the jobs, the non-skilled jobs are for a very short period of time and once the drill pad is set up you don’t need a lot of people to manage it,” Dutschke said. “So the communities in which the fracking happens, those who bear the brunts of the industry aren’t necessarily the ones that are going to get the benefits.”

In South Africa, there has been a public outcry over plans by the South African government to allow fracking for shale gas in the Karoo. There are concerns the process will pollute the groundwater table and disrupt the thriving agricultural industry in the Karoo region.

“With the amount of water use in fracking and with the way in which the water has been disposed of in all the other projects that we’ve looked at in the United States and elsewhere, it’s a real fear that large scale fracking and gas development in the Karoo would cause a major crisis to the economy that has supported millions of people for so long,” Barbee said.

The film has been released in South Africa but funding is needed for wider scale distribution. It is not evident if the documentary will have any impact on government decision-making.