Argentina: Fracking is Killing Water and Land

Carlos Aznarez
In recent days, fracking in the province of Neuquén has once again become a topic of discussion. Community members of the Mapuche people together with social organizations have carried out roadblocks and blockades, warning about the lack of water and its contamination.

The protest is related to the green light given by the local and national government to continue destroying the environment with drilling and fracking in Vaca Muerta. To discuss this serious situation we interviewed our journalist colleague Pablo Fernández, from Cartago TV.

Neuquén has always been and still is a hot province. Together with Salta in the 90’s, they inaugurated the roadblocks and the protests when YPF (Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales) was handed over, a time when a lot of social mobility was generated, and also much earlier when the “Choconazo” took place. In other words, Neuquén is characterized by a very strong presence in terms of testimonial claims, improvements and struggles, but also advances and setbacks almost as a constant of what happens in a great part of our country.

One of the first recovered factories in the country (Zanon) is located here, but also the assassination of Carlos Fuentealba took place here, and at the same time this is one of the richest provinces in Argentina. The income that this province has, obviously does not translate into distribution but because of the extraordinary sales of the natural resources that are exploited, or because of its derivatives, makes it an area with a lot of money and business.

This is to explain the Vaca Muerta formation in Loma Campana, in the town of Danielo, about 200 kilometers from the capital of Neuquén. In that formation there is a kind of Aleph, many of the guidelines are crossed with respect to the economic concentration that can be seen throughout the continent.

Let’s talk about fracking and how its use has been imposed.

Here there is no rift or dissonant views, the whole political caste supports fracking, defends it and raises it as a kind of “Eldoradist” vision (after the Conquistadors who longed to find El Dorado) with respect to our salvation of any future.

This has been reported for a long time by many studies, organizations, unions and personalities who are playing the game, and clearly remain outside the political map, because to speak against fracking in Neuquén is, in political and marketing terms, suicide.

If it is like that now, imagine eleven years ago when all this was just starting and they told us that fracking did not pollute and brought progress, but Neuquén’s people knew about this development. We knew about development and exploitation of natural resources in a town of Rincón de los Sauces, or what they did in Loma La Lata as well, where the old Red Sol destroyed everything and left an environmental impact that is still being studied.

The same happened in the province of Río Negro in the town of Cinco Saltos. There was an amazing model of extrativism and environmental management. The Indupa plant became the largest mercury cemetery on the planet and there they destroyed everything, including the town of Cinco Saltos, which has been affected by this history and all the disaster it caused in the water and in the bodies of the people.

This is how these evils continue to reproduce themselves, fracking led us to another very serious problem, Comarsa. It is a company that polluted, leaving the soil oiled in places where they had promised not to do so. Let us bear in mind that fracking, among the many disasters it causes, generates a waste disaster.

Waste is treated to make it inert, but in reality it is not treated and it is a business done in accordance with environmental directions. To pollute you always have to have two parties: the one who pollutes and the one who allows pollution. There the state acts as a kind of guarantor in those businesses and they leave those environmental liabilities.

Fracking is filling the land with cemeteries. We still don’t know what will happen at the level of contamination in our bodies, because we only see it after a long time.

Contamination is part of this tragedy, but there is also the lack of water.

That’s right, now the water crisis is coming and some water flows have begun to dry up, there are very low levels and those who pay the highest price are the native peoples. They were in those formations and they also live in those territories, for example in the Maripe Field, which is one of the main explorations of YPF, they polluted all the lands, but as this happens outside the cities and in populations that are in the countryside, far away from the urban daily life, it does not affect us.

The problem is that now this has reached the city and we understand the historical claim of the communities that have been warning about fracking, because it not only pollutes and destroys, but it will also leave us without water, because the quantities absorbed by fracking make these practices devastating for all of us.

We are beginning to see that seismic tremors are being triggered near Neuquén, above Cutralcó, a historic city where there were large settlements. There is a place called Sauzal Bonito, which is very close to the fort. More than four years ago they began experiencing earthquakes. The earthquakes became more and more frequent and the population is terrified.

The local and national governments do not intervene in this situation?

The consent to what is happening is tremendous because not only do they install the seismographs, but they want to play down the situation and ignore it, and the problem is that the houses are starting to crumble and the earthquakes are becoming more frequent.

This is the epic dilemma that we constantly see in these models that propose development but in reality leave behind an environmental disaster, debts and plundered towns.

Did they really not know that fracking was going to produce this, when there was all the evidence and complaints, there are even countries that have extirpated fracking and there are populations that have forbidden its entry. However, here they came in with the last government and with Macri they accelerated and imposed the logic with an iron fist.

The appearance of fracking creates environmental graveyards. There are lawyers who speak of environmental holocausts, although they are only beginning to be seen in small increments, and it really causes panic afterwards. The fact that Neuquén, which is crossed by the Neuquen River and the Limay River, has a water emergency is extremely serious.

Imagine what could happen if it begins to decrease, because the water emergency is not only that consumption drops, but also that you cannot generate electric power for the rest of the country, like the El Chocón dam, and besides, there are problems with drinking water, bathing and leading a normal life. Also, in addition to all the problems caused by the pandemic, the economic situation is becoming increasingly difficult.

What should we do to call attention to all that is happening, because we are always promoting issues of social agroecology and denouncing situations similar to the ones you are talking about, but they do not seem interested. It is as if there were a sleepy community that does not want to know what is happening.

There are working groups that have supported the communities and have been there for a long time, tirelessly advancing these causes and making them known. Here the Multisectorial against Fracking was created, although at times it is somewhat silent at times because it doesn’t seem to be very important, but it has placed the discussion at the center, within what is the local political scene.

We have also been working with OPSur (Observatorio Petrolero Sur) for a long time, since 2010, they were the first to raise the alarm about what fracking was going to lead to in Argentina, exposing the fact that these imperial initiatives were going to lead to a geopolitical movement that had a great impact on the country.

On the other hand, there is passivity because this is not happening to the “white man”, it is not happening to the urban middle class population that is much more mediatized and committed to everyday things and not with a long-term view. Since this is happening to native peoples who are with their flocks of goats and lambs, 300 kilometers away from urban areas, it does not matter and is ignored.

For ten years they have been denouncing that the water tables are being polluted, now when there is a lack of water and the water that there is is polluted, maybe then they will start to mobilize.

Currently, the water emergency is here, it is going to be a very challenging summer and this will be extended to most of the basins that are contaminated or close to fracking.

Even though the local corporate press is pro-fracking, -both local newspapers are owned by landowner groups-, and their views and energy supplements are pro-fracking, they can no longer deny that fracking pollutes, causes earthquakes and brings drought.

I believe that in a cold and dialectical analysis, many of these things lead to questions of rigor and violence, but the cost is always the same.

In Neuquén, it has been a month since a kitchen exploded and killed three teachers, as in the case of the teacher Mónica Jara. Today Neuquén is generating very strong mobilizations organized by one of the largest unions in the province ATEN (Association of Education Workers of Neuquén). There are still these problems but they have been denouncing for years that the schools are in poor condition.

Aguada San Roque is on the way to Vaca Muerta, you can see the level of plundering that is going on and all the populations around the basins are living in precarious conditions. We are fascinated by Messi but we do not see what Qatar is and why it has so much capital and what society lives there, who governs and what happens.

This Caliphate scenario is also seen in these provinces where the looting is monumental. The business of the political caste around fracking is huge, there is no one of that caste at the local level of political merchandising who is not linked to a service company linked to fracking.

This generates money and some will speak in favor of fracking, but environmental responsibility on their part is a joke. They are euphemisms to continue draining money with an eco-friendly appearance. We must remember that YPF is a part of this, and the discussion must continue, because we think that YPF and its oilfields are fiscal.

However, this is not so, half of this company is private and with the populations affected by fracking, either here in the town of Allen, in Río Negro, or in Sauzal Bonito, they behave like Chevron, ignoring them and lying to them.

We have made many documentaries on the consequences of living near fracking, not because one is going to live near it, but because they are installing it there. Allen is the national pear capital but the pear has disappeared, because it is completely polluted. It is 30 kilometers from Neuquén and the water is bottled, there is nobody in Allen who would drink tap water.

The people who live there have to live with the noise, the pollution and the diseases and it is beginning to seriously affect the population. Where fracking reaches, diseases and even the trafficking route arrive.

In the face of this constant emergency, what would be the perspective that could help to modify the situation?

The practical view of the situation is that, until it stops affecting the most humble populations, as is the case of those who live close to the farms and the sectors of the native peoples, it will not have much impact.

Until there is a problem of the white man, the 35 year old heterosexual who may have been moved because he does not have water to fill the “pelopincho” pool, maybe then he will start to realize it.

I do not want to be pessimistic but there is good information about it, many of these causes end up being paralyzed because there is a refusal of idiosyncrasy to see it as something personal but as something foreign, because “as it happens to the Mapuches it will not happen to me”. Imagine if this happens to a province with a Mapuche name, as it can be seen in Rosario, Santa Fe or Buenos Aires.

I believe that the denunciation and the commitment are there, this has not slackened over the years and the groups continue to be attentive and there are increasingly more organizations, environmental lawyers, groups linked to the defense of the land and communal property that also denounce this situation.

Fracking is an imperial initiative that brings disasters and in terms of profits, if we check the last five front pages of the local newspapers, between July and August, the yields are at record levels. Therefore, Neuquén is earning more money than before the pandemic, the money is there as well as the consequences.

Here there is a complicity of the Neuquén political caste and of the national political caste, which are aiming not only at Neuquén but the entire country to positively assume extractivism and slowly condemn us.

The native populations are the ones who have the clearest understanding of this issue, not only because they are the most affected, but also because they have a totally different relationship with nature than those who live in the big cities.

The battles are there, and to win them we have to fight them, just as Neuquén has managed to stop mega-mining projects in the town of Loncopué. We have a very large accumulation of struggles and victories. It is also true that there are very complex battles which do not imply a certain defeat.

It is true that there are a lot of interests and capital behind this and that money is translated into advertising for the media, comfortable for journalists who prefer to work in human resources of YPF or in the communication area and ignore the complaints that they know are fair and concrete.

It is also good to investigate the service companies that are linked to the fracking industry and the political caste. The oil union in Neuquén is a union plagued by mafias and practically governed by a single family.

On the other hand, there are unions which in turn have service companies, such as the UOCRA, which generate labor exchange and the internal conflicts are solved with bullets. So we have all this wide spectrum to study and to understand why it is so deep and the cost it is going to have.

I will end with a detail that is quite revealing of what is happening: when fracking started, YPF and several oil companies contacted the National University of Comahue and wanted to get technicians directly from there, considering the “Eldoradist” view that fracking brings with it.

There was something that seemed very sinister to me: YPF published “El juego de la Oca” or “El estanciero”, to distribute in primary schools and demonstrate the goodness of fracking. This was not done by Chevron or Shell but by an Argentine company, that is why the level of violence, cynicism and contempt of treating us as idiots, even the most innocent ones such as children, by selling us these fracking games.

However, today this is forgotten, although it happened seven years ago, when it was said that fracking did not pollute.

Translation by Internationalist 360°