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Trust vs Uncertainty in Argentine Communities

By Sam Rubright, MPH, CPH – with contributions from Ana Wieman and editing by Cecilia G. Flocco, PhD

While the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is a globally critical issue (link updated in 2018) with significant implications for the oil and gas industry, the same industry encounters on-the-ground challenges in many places where extraction occurs. Argentina is now experiencing those challenges firsthand.

Argentina, South America’s 3rd largest economy, could have 801.5 trillion cubic feet of wet shale gas (more than unproven US reserves), and 27 billion barrels of tight oil.1 Oil and gas companies are excited about the prospects. Argentina has even started to produce its own sand for the hydraulic fracturing process in an attempt to reduce the cost of drilling and attract investors. Already, however, community concerns about environmental health and safety are rising to the surface.

Allen, Argentina

Allen is a city in the Río Negro (“Black River”) province of Argentina, located at the northern edge of the Patagonia region. It is known for its rich fruit production and hosts approximately 27,000 inhabitants as of the most recent census.2,3 Allen is also home to shale oil and gas drilling currently being conducted by Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), Argentina’s renationalized energy company.

On July 21, 2015, two separate incidents occurred near Allen. In the first case, a violent decompression at the well4 triggered what was likely a blowout. The spray that resulted caused hydrocarbons to be deposited into a lagoon that flows into the Black River, the province’s namesake and one of the main water sources for the arid Patagonian plateau. Clean up efforts took place immediately, although there was a lack of awareness that a rural community, Calle Ciega #10, lives very close to the drilling activity.5 Less than 24 hours later, Ysur, a YPF contractor, damaged an aqueduct near the town, leaving coastal area residents without drinking water.6

Mirroring community concerns near drilling operations in the US, residents of Calle Ciega #10 have felt the effects ever since the industry came to town; living near such intense industrial activity, they say, has put them all on edge. They worry about everything from cracking foundations, fire and explosions, potential gas leaks, to the heavy truck traffic. Organic farmers are even having trouble selling their produce due to the proximity of oil and gas operations to their fields. The uncertainty of it all is the biggest problem; residents have gone so far as to protest the recent incidents by blocking access to one of wells in the area (EFO 250).7 The neighbors’ concerns were brought to a civil court by Rio Negro province’s Ombudsman, action resulting in ordering environmental impact investigations and in ceasing activities at the well (EFO 280).8

Below you will find some photos from Allen, showing the trucks that transport water for the drilling, a warehouse for sand and ceramics, the well where there were two explosions in recent history, and piping that goes into a neighbor’s yard – Submitted by Ana Wieman:

Trust vs Uncertainty

Argentine communities are fighting a battle between trusting that the industry and government will properly manage oil and gas operations and being left in the dark about public health and safety risks. In addition to the incidents in Allen, a major cyanide spill from a gold mine9 in San Juan province in September (exploited by Canadian Barrick Gold Corp.) has added fuel to public concerns about how Argentine natural resources, as well as the response to incidents and information, are being handled. Inconsistent messages elevate community tensions, leaving a trail of doubt and uncertainty in their wake.

“Vos y yo, bebemos la misma agua.” = “You and I, we drink the same water.”
– Facebook sentiment by Elvio Mendioroz, Argentina


Footnotes and Additional Resources

  1. World Shale Resource Assessments. (2015). US EIA
  2. Rio Negro Province Census (2010)
  3. Geographic coordinates: 38°58′00″S 67°50′00″O
  4. Excavadora dejó dos barrios sin agua (Excavator left two neighborhoods without water). (2015). Rionegro.com.ar
  5. EFO well 280 located between the rural road 11 and Route 22
  6. Escape de petróleo cayó a una laguna en Allen (Escape of oil fell to a lagoon in Allen). (2015). Rionegro.com.ar
  7. Allen: “La vida cambió para peor” alertan vecinos por petrolera (Allen: “Life changed for the worse” Neighbors alert the oil company’s presence). Rionegro.com.ar
  8. La Justicia buscará determinar el posible impacto ambiental del pozo EFO 280. (The Justice will determine the possible environmental impact of well EFO 280). (2015). defensoriarionegro.gov.ar
  9. Cyanide Spill Resources:
    1. Argentina: El cianuro llega al río (Argentina: Cyanide reaches the river). (2015). Biodiversity in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    2. Jáchal y San Juan reclaman la prohibición de la minería a cielo abierto tras el derrame de cianuro en la mina de Barrick Gold (Jáchal and San Juan demand the ban on open pit mining after the cyanide spill at Barrick Gold mine). (2015). lavaca.org.
    3. Por el derrame de cianuro en San Juan, piden incluir los delitos ambientales en el Código Penal (For the cyanide spill in San Juan, they ask to include environmental crimes in the Penal Code). (2015). Cronista.com.
    4. Derrame de Cianuro en San Juan (Cyanide spill in San Juan). (2015). About the cyanide spill in the Veladero mine, San Juan – TV news show
    5. Jáchal, cuando ya nadie te nombre (Jáchal, when no one will say your name – anymore). (2015). De Tierras y de Utopias Viaje Documental – From Lands and Utopies, documentary of the spill in Jáchal that resulted in years of existing water problems
    6. Jorge Lanata’s interview with Simón Ernesto about the spill in Veladero. (2015) by Canal Zeta y Cero, Argentina

Please note: Many of the resources we accessed to write this story, as well as most correspondence, were in Spanish. Please alert Sam to any translation errors: malone@fractracker.org.

Convergence in Buenos Aires Argentina

A South American Crossroads

by Brook Lenker, Executive Director

Gracious. Passionate. Determined.

Few words fully capture the evocative resilience of Argentina where history is as turbulent as the winds of Patagonia. Fracking for oil and natural gas is a growing storm on the national horizon, and the effects will be fueled or mitigated by the ceaseless power of the Argentine people.

In the plains of Vaca Muerta, the forces collide. Democracy and calls for transparency meet big energy and nonresponsive government. Chevron has seduced YPF, the state-supported oil company, for a heavily-subsidized stake in the hydrocarbon riches. The shale play represents some of the largest oil and gas reserves in the world, proportional to the scale of concern about excessive use of water and its possible contamination; ranching and agriculture are the lifeblood of this drought-prone land. So much is at stake.

Our Energy Solutions in South America

FracTracker, Earthworks, and Ecologic Institute sent a delegation to Argentina and Uruguay from May 5 through the 12th as part of an outreach program called Our Energy Solutions made possible by our hosts’ generosity, foundation support, and last year’s Indiegogo campaign.

Eager audiences greeted our presentations about the American experience with unconventional oil and gas development and the promise of renewable energy. It was standing room only at a Senate forum in Buenos Aires and the offices of El Telegrafo in Paysandu. In Parana, we kicked-off a national conference about fracking and concluded our tour in San Rafael – a city on the northern fringe of the drilling boom. In total, we addressed more than 650 people, answering their concerns, cultivating their understanding of the perils of extraction, and sharing the opportunities for cleaner energy. Our ultimate reach was even greater, magnified by television and newspaper coverage and connections fostered with other organizations and institutions. The new relationships in South America may achieve unfathomable good.

A Moral Imperative

With his Argentine roots, Pope Francis is a ubiquitous and revered figure across the country. He’s also a gentle global force calling on humanity to confront climate change and care for the earth. One of our unforgettable hosts, Juan Pablo Olsson, had been in Rome the week prior to meet with the pontiff and participate in an environmental conference at the Vatican. Inspired, Juan Pablo and other speakers cited the moral imperative of the issues we were communicating and shared this papal plea: “a humble and simple request to work together to defend the future of the planet.”

The call still resonates. Every day we are confronted by the acute harms of unrestrained extraction – from contamination of air and water to the violation of fundamental human and constitutional rights. The glaciers of Patagonia aren’t melting, they are crying – for a global demonstration of compassion.

Stay tuned for news in the fall from the next leg of this journey – Europe.

OES Workshops

Our Energy Solutions

14 workshops in 7 countries on 3 continents

A FracTracker team has just returned from North Carolina where fracking has been given the green light by the state’s government. Time may tell what reserves are contained within the Mesozoic basins but already landmen are knocking on doors and striking deals with willing landowners. Offshore drilling is also under consideration in a state where tourism – fueled in part by renowned beach destinations – is a $20 billion a year industry.

OES Panel in Asheville

OES panel answering questions in Asheville, NC

The visit was for Our Energy Solutions, a project bringing 14 workshops to seven countries on three continents. The aim is to help build a global community of engaged citizens and stakeholders who are informed of the risks of fossil fuels (like oil and natural gas), enlightened about renewable energy opportunities, and inspired to share ideas for a more sustainable planet.  The attendance, interest, and dialogue at the North Carolina workshops were inspiring. People young and old came out to prove there is great concern about these issues. While acknowledging the complexities of energy and climate challenges, they seemed willing to dig-in, reach-out, engage, and act. The audiences owned the “Our” in Our Energy Solutions.  Just weeks earlier, another team from FracTracker and the Ecologic Institute – the lead collaborators in Our Energy Solutions – launched the project with workshops in Florida, hosted by the South Florida Wildlands Association. In North Carolina, our partners were Environment North Carolina and MountainTrue. These regional and statewide groups offer abundant ways to get involved and illuminate a better path forward.

BackPageAlt2_windmillsBoth states are at risk from accelerated and more extreme hydrocarbon extraction, but both also bear significant potential for broad success with renewable energy. While only 0.1% of Florida’s current generating capacity comes from solar, it has some of the strongest incoming solar radiation in the country. North Carolina sports the best conditions for offshore wind energy on the east coast. The Tarheel State ranked 2nd in the nation for new installed solar capacity in 2014, and the same year, over 4,300 North Carolinians worked in the solar power industry. Already, 4,800 Floridians work in the solar industry.

Wellsbycounty-Feature

Well density by county in the U.S.

The volatile economics of oil and gas, the effects of fossil fuel combustion on the planet, and the impairment of human health and the environment caused by extraction necessitate other approaches to meet our energy needs. Our Energy Solutions will strive to showcase brighter possibilities – one workshop at a time. Next stop, Argentina – May 5-12th.

Check out Our Energy Solutions on Facebook and join the conversation!

Photo by the NY Times

In Solidarity With Argentina

Update: The Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for this initiative ended on August 20, 2014

An International Expedition to Address the Perils of Oil & Gas Extraction

Photo by the NY Times

Signs point to exploration areas in the Vaca Muerta, or Dead Cow, a field in the Patagonian desert where Chevron is currently drilling fracking exploratory wells. (Photo by NY Times)

People in Argentina are concerned about fracking increasing in their country. They are aware of the impacts to people’s health and the environment that oil and gas fracking has caused – spills, leaks and explosions; air and water pollution; nausea, headaches and other health problems from toxic exposure; destruction of forests and parklands; increased earthquake risks.

They want to know the truth from those who have lived and worked near oil and gas operations in the U.S. Argentina sin Fracking has invited Earthworks, FracTracker Alliance and Ecologic Institute to come to Argentina to tell the real story.

To help fund this initiative, we have launched an Indiegogo campaign. Your contributions will make it possible for experts from these 3 American organizations to travel to Argentina, and share their experiences from the U.S. with fracking. We’ll hold several workshops in Buenos Aires and other affected communities, such as the Vaca Muerta region, where fracking is already occurring, and visit others who face the potential dangers of fracking.

With your help, we can help Argentina avoid making the mistakes that we’ve made in the U.S., and we can connect Argentinians to a new international network of environmental groups fighting fossil fuel development worldwide.