Sunday, April 28, 2013

Thirsty Elephants

We are planning the Botswana, Kalahari stage of this project over the next two weeks for The High Cost Of Cheap Gas project. We have to balance our need to maintain our breaking news story with the need to share with our backers and possible backers the very shocking nature of this news angle. We will breaking open a story that has not been covered by any mainstream media at all, one that will affect the lives of the San Bushmen people, the farmers of Botswana and the wild animals of the Kalahari Desert.

This is the most news-based environmental story our team has ever worked on, and we are taking this responsibility very seriously. Known as the first people, the Kalahari San people and the animals they depend upon for their survival will bear the brunt of this vast development that will change the face of this unspoilt place forever.

Elephants like these ones in the Tuli Block of Botswana are completely dependent on wells for their water, wells that may run dry from de-watering of Coal Seam Gas developments and fracking.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Great Partnerships

On the road in the Karoo with cameraman Graham Abbot and grip Carlos Quiroga.

Dear Backers and Friends,
I am happy to announce that we have indeed received 75% of the funding for this film from the Open Society Foundation.  It would not have happened had we not put up the Kickstarter campaign, and it could not happen without all of you.  That 66 people from around the world gave their time and energy and cash to the project was one of the factors that helped us get the funding.  Thank you all for your help. 
Now we have a way forward and a new crowd-funding campaign to raise the rest of the money.  It would be fantastic if you all gave again to the film, and most importantly spread the message out to your networks that we are going ahead with it and need more people on board. 
The link to the new film project on Indiegogo is here:

We are off into the Karoo Desert in the next few days to interview farmers, scientists and communities.  We will be camping out under the stars, taking pictures and making this film.  We will keep you all up to date from the Indiegogo campaign page and this blog.

You can also follow us on Facebook here:

Thanks Again and We Hope You All Join Us!

Director Jeffrey Barbee and Producer Mira Dutschke

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The High Cost Of Cheap Gas - The Path Forward

Dear Friends and Backers,

First of all a huge “Thank You” for supporting our project, “The High Cost of Cheap Gas”

The 30 day crowd-sourcing campaign led to many great things: South Africa's most watched current-affairs show is interested to run this story in the format we envisioned.  We received funding separately from the kickstarter campaign to bridge the time between now and the time we get further funding.  A foundation has indicated interest to fund about 80% of the entire budget.

Often the only thing that separates success from failure is whether we quit, well that won't be happening.

This has been a great learning experience for us and helped us decide to start a similar campaign on a different website. If you, as one of our 66 backers still want to support this project, you can transfer your backing to our new page on Indiegogo that we will send out to you this week.

Since the kickstarter campaign has ended your pledges are returned to your bank accounts this week. The 3,600 USD we raised here would go a long way in helping us to create a powerful and compelling story, especially when combined with the other funding and partnerships we have secured.

We have put a 10K USD budget together for the new proposal on Indiegogo on a flexible funding model, meaning we get to use the all of the donations you make. This allows all of you to still be personally part of this project and makes sure that the story continues.  If you would like to make a direct contribution please let us know through email or phone.

We would like to thank each one of you for believing in us and supporting this important work, without you it would not be possible. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions, and please sign up to our Facebook page.

Warm Regards
Jeffrey and Mira

Monday, March 25, 2013

The High Cost Of Cheap Gas- 12 Days and Counting

It's 12 days and counting down for the 30 day funding period for the film, The High Cost Of Cheap Gas.  For all of you like me who are new to Kickstarter, if we don't raise the 22K for this project, then we get nothing at all and all the pledges get refunded to everyone's credit card. 

It would be great if this project went "viral" and things turned around, and so me and my team have worked this weekend to renovate the project page and bring new ideas to bear (so to speak).

The new look on the page is aimed to focus some attention on something most fracking journalists have so far overlooked: The effect of fracking chemicals on people's endocrine system.  Led by scientists like Dr. Theo Colborn, the latest data is suggesting that the millions of liters of chemicals injected into the ground during fracking operations can lead to severe medical problems, including infertility, birth defects, and long-term debilitating illnesses of many different kinds.

Choosing Mimi Jordan, the amazing mother-to-be for this shoot was important to graphically show this causal link that is now well established by independent scientists. 
I wanted to share some more pictures from the shoot on Saturday with everyone.  Special thanks to Mimi, her partner, artist Andrea Rolfes, and Jurgen Meekel.  It is an honour to work with such a talented team.
Jeffrey Barbee EX: Johannesburg South Africa

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Help Crowd Source The High Cost Of Cheap Gas

Camera Technician Francois gets up close and personal with the huge skies of the Karoo Desert of South Africa while on a shoot for the High Cost Of Cheap Gas film project.

I have been working now for almost two weeks to crowd-source funding for the new film The High Cost Of Cheap Gas.  We are only 13% funded with nearly half the funding time elapsed.  We are looking for conscientious companies, NGOs and individuals to assist in raising the rest of the money.  Please send this along to your networks and freinds who may be able to help.  This is the fist time I am working through my network  to raise money like this, so its been a good learning experience, but it would be great if we could reach our funding goal as well!
Click Here or cut and paste this link far and wide:
Jeffrey Barbee EX: Johannesburg

So what is Fracking?

The High Cost Of Cheap Gas
by Jeffrey Barbee
1 of a series of articles about Natural Gas Development in Southern Africa
Accompanying Photographs Available

As natural gas production fans out from America to the United Kingdom, Poland, and now South Africa, real questions remain about it’s long-term benefits and long-term effects.  The latest research suggests that operations like fracking, drilling and producing natural gas are  much more damaging than previously thought, both to the people around the sites and the environment which supports them.  Mis-information campaigns and a lack of clear knowledge about the process have made it hard for people to understand what the real problems with this development are. Scientists and communities are starting to wonder whether the current price of gas covers the damage that the extraction of it will cost in the long term.

What is Gas Production?

Natural gas production in shale formations consists of essentially three stages.  Drilling is done with huge rigs like the ones used to drill oil wells.  The rig drills many wells from one pad,  as close as a few meters away, using directional drilling techniques to fan out the wells like an octopus from the drill pad as much as ten kilometers away in any direction horizontally.  Companies like Shell say they have been drilling and hydraulic fracturing safely for sixty years, but this is misrepresenting the facts.  Horizontal drilling is new and only came into industrial use about twenty years ago in Texas and Colorado.

Once the drilling is complete, the rig is taken away and service trucks bring millions of liters of water, sand and chemicals to the site where they are mixed and injected under great pressure in  a process called hydraulic fracturing, also called hydrofracturing or simply fracking.  At roughly two thousand to four thousand meters deep, past where the drill hole becomes horizontal, the pipes have holes where this extreme pressure drives the fluid into the shale and cracks it, releasing the methane gas and other chemicals.

Once the wells from the pad have been fracked, some 20-80% of the millions of liters of polluted water mixed with fracking fluids return up the well shaft to the surface where the toxic liquid must be disposed of, often in settling ponds next to the drill pad where the liquids and volatile compounds can evaporate into the air.  The rest of the mixture remains in the well, the silica sand propping open the cracks and the chemicals slowly leaching away into the ground or coming up with the methane and dirty water.

For the 8 to 20 year life of the well, trucks must take away this polluted waste mixture that emerges with the gas. The waste can be 50% of everything coming up the well, mostly volatile organic compounds mixed with polluted water and the remains of the fracking chemicals.

The potential problems with this process are not just relegated to the fracking of the well, as many believe, but every aspect of production, from drilling to final well closure.  The most clear danger is when fracking fluids and trapped gas leak out of the sides of the well shaft into the water table though cracked well casings.  Dr. Van Tonder, a geohydrologist from the University of the Free State explains that when they frack the wells so close to one another, the small earthquakes caused by the fracking  the cement well casings crack. The deep water and trapped gas will migrate up through these cracks and into the drinking water aquifer he says. “In 50 to 100 years, all the wells will leak, this is a given”.

Surface Pollution

The fracking chemicals are mixed on the surface and stored in large ponds that must be very carefully insulated from leakage, which is sometimes not done.  American energy analyst Randy Udall says, “We dont have a clear idea, is this water really being safely handled? and clearly in some circumstances, it is not.”  Udall has studied the gas industry in western Colorado’s Garfield Country for fifteen years and believes that there is not sufficient environmental oversight to guarantee that companies are not polluting. 

The ponds next to drill sites also evaporate off large amounts of chemicals into the air, and researchers believe this also extremely dangerous.   Dr. Theo Colborn, a medical doctor who founded the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, recently completed a study about the chemicals used in natural gas production.  Of the 353 identified chemicals, 25% cause cancer, 45% affect the brain and nervous system as well as the immune system and heart, and 37% of them affect the endocrine system.  As alarming as this may be, it seems it is the endocrine disruptors that should have everyone very worried.  This class of chemical causes severe physical and mental disorders and interferes with fetal development in the womb. It can also harm the very genome that we pass along to our unborn children, harming generations of offspring both in humans and animals around drilling sites.

Once the well is drilled, fracked and in production it can still be invisibly polluting.  A new study from Cornell Univeristy in the USA has found that during production as much as 9% of the methane and compounds like benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylenes may leak out of the wells.  This seriously besmirches the green pedigree of natural gas, and according to the study’s author, makes it even more of a danger to global warming than using coal for power generation.

One of the more misunderstood dangers from natural gas development is the simple arithmetic behind the development of a well. For many wells where water must be trucked to the drilling site, it takes as many as 2000 truck visits to frack a well.  In South Africa Shell plans to develop ten wells on one drill pad and fifty pads to a development.  So one pad can take 20,000 large truck visits, and the entire development? Thats one million large heavy vehicles using public roads and releasing tons of diesel smoke that contains arsenic, benzene, and other pollutants over a ten year period.

Raymond Claasens is a Khoi San farmer in the Klein Karoo near Barrydale and he is concerned about the unseen dangers of shale gas drilling: “So it can bring in a lot of jobs, a lot of money, but what about the land? what about the environment we depend upon? As I see it, it is going to bite us back if we do this”.

In rural areas where wells are being fracked, large amounts of diesel smoke containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like these mix and react with sunlight, creating ground-level ozone.  In Wyoming the US Environmental Protection Agency says natural gas expansion has pushed ground level ozone readings to four times the federal limit and has given the industry three years to correct the problem.

The latest science coming out of the gas fields of America seems to bring into question many of the industry’s activities and much of their research that suggests this is a benign and green answer to coal or oil usage.  Since many of the effects of natural gas development are only felt decades in the future, it is telling that only after ten years does the peer reviewed science emerging from the large scale developments in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming show serious side effects to natural gas drilling. 

Award-winning journalist and film maker Jeffrey Barbee is working on a project about natural gas development around the world. Right now he is crowd sourcing funding for a film about fracking the Karoo desert. 

EX Jeffrey Barbee, Johannesburg
Support the film project:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The First Farmers Of The Karoo

This is Raymond Claasons, a Khoi San farmer from Barrydale in the Karoo. Raymond owns a farm near the Barrydale hot springs. This spring, like many in the Karoo Desert is artesian, meaning a well where pressured drives water to the surface. Reliant on this spring as a source of water for his indigenous nursery, Claasons is worried that proposed natural gas development in the area may interfere with how the spring works.

He may not be far wrong, considering that Prof Gerrit Von Tonder, a geo-hydrologist from the University of the Free State, is worried about the effects of hydraulic frackuring for precisely this reason. Because springs like the one that feeds Claason's farm are often channeling water up from very deep in the shale along dolerite dykes that act like elevator shafts, Von Tonder says fracking could damage the springs that feed the people of this desert.

In this image Raymond stands on the deck of his house in Barrydale while a police van is parked on the road to oversee a demonstration by farm workers for increased pay. The Khoi San people were the first farmers in the Karoo and have been living in this desert for thousands of years.

Raymond has a story to tell. The High Cost Of Cheap Gas Reporting Project is a chance for everyone to be a part of this project and help make his story told.

The link the kickstarter campaign is here:

You can also see a short of the film on LinkTV:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The High Cost Of Cheap Gas On Link TV

The short promo film has already been picked by LinkTV! watch it here:

The Longer Film Needs Backers. With 27 more days to go we need to raise 22,000 dollars to make this film into a feature documentary. Support this blog and Journalist Jeffrey Barbee to share the what the HIgh Cost Of Cheap Gas really is.
Click here:

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Launch of The High Cost Of Cheap Gas Financing Campaign

Hi Another Path Followers and Readers,

I have launched the High Cost Of Cheap Gas financing campaign on Kickstarter today!  The link to that campaign is here.  I ask all of you, my readers and friends, to please forward this important campaign on to your networks if you feel like it is worthwhile.  A simple email will do, and this is the hyperlink to do it with (just cut and paste it):

I will be updating this blog daily with information about the campaign and the story, and hope to bring all of you along on this expedition, at least in cyberspace.

This film is for everyone concerned about natural resources like the air, water and soil we depend on for our survival. It is for voters, activists, gas drillers decision makers and communities who are facing natural gas extraction around the world. It is for everyone who is concerned about their own and their children’s health and future.

This project takes a critical look at the gas industry in the United States, providing a crucial perspective to the debate around the proposed gas development in Southern Africa. Scientists and researchers are revealing that the explosion of the gas industry with horizontal fracturing in the US has come at the expense of people’s health and the environment. The promised economic prospects and growth were often s unsustained. A country like South Africa marked by high unemployment and poverty, needs the knowledge in this film to avoid the same mistakes that were made in the US.

Knowledge is power, and today through portals like Kickstarter, the people consuming the media have the chance to be in charge of its creation. Become a commissioning editor or a backer and be part of the creation of this project. Never before has the media had to answer so directly to the people we create these pieces for, and that is an exciting part of launching this type of project.

The oil and gas industry has almost unlimited resources to spread misinformation and suppress unbiased and critical reporting. The shortage of money in the independent media makes it hard to counteract these reports, but also offers this unique opportunity to be directly involved in cutting through the propaganda.

Do you care about gas drilling? Do you want to know the latest and most pertinent information? Then join our team. As a sponsor you can make your voice heard. We keep you up to date in our online community forum with reports from the field, cutting edge research, poignant stories and behind the scenes photographs delivered directly to you. This project is for you and everyone out there who needs this information to make informed decisions about our common future. 

Thank You,
Jeffrey Barbee, Johannesburg March 4, 2013

Friday, February 22, 2013

Reportage: In Lesotho's Highlands A Garden Grows

The Katse Damn high in the Lesotho Mountains. It is Africa's second largest and supplies Johannesburg with a steady water supply.
Looking out over the Lesotho border with South Africa, from near Ficksburg just after a rainstorm.

A hiker enjoys sunset in a cave on the Lesotho border with South Africa, in the foothills of the Drakensburg Mountains.

Gardener Thabo Palesa tends lettuce at his garden in the Lesotho Highlands.  The country has promoted gardening as a cheap way to give people he nutrients they need. 

Theboho Rantiso, left and his friend Moshoeshoe Matlali tend their herds near Bobete

The small road leading through Lesotho's highlands to Bobonong.

Henry Suthisi, 78, sits in his front garden near Bobonong, Lesotho.

Ladies carried every rock from 1.5 kilometers away to build the Lebokang Clinic in Lesotho. 

Makopanang Suthisi, 78 with her keyhole gardens. She feeds two families with the vegetables from here all year.  Lesotho has one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world, roughly 23% of the population is living with the disease. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

The High Cost Of Cheap Gas-Fracking in the Karoo

The producer working in the Swartberg Mountains, on the far southern edge of the Karoo Desert.
I am originally from western Colorado where Natural Gas development really took off about thirteen years ago. At the moment there are more drilling rigs working in Garfield county than there are in the whole of the Arabian peninsula. This unrestrained development in one of the most picturesque places in America has brought some jobs, a lot of money for gas industries, and become a focul point in the dispute around the technology’s safety and it’s side effects.

Now I live in South Africa, and today the gas companies are lining up to break into the shales of the Karoo desert here in search of a large gas resource. The size of the deposit locked into the deep shale layers of this magical desert could be 500 trillion cubic meters, the fifth largest on the planet. The government hopes this development will enrich the country and give it s source of cheap energy that is clean and abundant.

Up until September last year there was a block on all development, but the moratorium has been lifted, and Shell Oil is waiting for their exploration permit to be issued. Once these licenses are issued a large-scale drilling and fracking project will begin, so the window of opportunity to educate communities who will be affected by this development is closing fast.

Starry nights near Touws River in the Karoo Desert.  Venus in the upper middle of the image shines most brightly.  The Karoo is home to the largest optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere.

But South Africa is water scarce, with only 70% access to cleandrinking water and there is little enforcement for existing laws governing pollution. It is home to the most polluted beachfront in the world and a mining pollution legacy that affects more than 7 million people’s health. If the past is anything to go by, natural gas production will largely be regulated here by the very industries that are carrying it out and the benefits will flow to the rich and powerful while local communities deal with the cost.

A rare rainstorm in the Karoo fills the dry gullies with rushing water.  Water is the key to the abundant ecosystems in this semi-desert area, and ranchers worry that Natural Gas Development may endanger this scarce resource.

Here in South Africa most people are not aware of this large scale gas development on the horizon and what it means to them. This project’s goal is to change that. The newest science tells us that natural gas production is actually dirtier than coal, creates ground level ozone and noxious pollution that is a serious danger -especially to our children, and does not necessarily bring economic benefits to the communities where it happens. In this film, these long-term costs of this technology are balanced against it’s perceived and championed benefits, showing clear examples of a possible fracking future.

From Colorado to the Karoo town of Carnarvon, we share the lessons of my home with the people of my adopted country. Following intersecting needs and value chains we examine how the SA government is invested in Shell, we follow where the money, pollution and water will flow, what it costs to clean up a well and the health impacts of little known but terribly dangerous chemicals called endocrine disruptors.

Through it all we will bring you on Safari through the rich treasures of the Karoo Desert and share one last look at a landscape that may change forever. This is The High Cost of Cheap Gas.

The Square Kilometer Array near Carnarvon in the Karoo Desert will be the largest telescope on the planet, with around 3000 radio telescopes like these working in unison.  The success of the project could be derailed by the dust, communications and development brought by large-scale natural gas extraction.