|Cartoon by Khalil Bendib|
Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the state owned oil company, is quietly expanding operations to extract oil from shale deposits in six Mexican states. However, the company has failed to disclose its use of a controversial technology called fracking and explain the potential environmental impacts to local communities, say activists.
The Mexican government estimates that there are as much as 141 trillion cubic feet of viable shale gas reserves in Mexico, almost nine times greater than “conventional gas” reserves. In order to get at these deep underground reserves of gas and oil, Pemex has turned to new fracking technologies developed in the U.S. that involves boring holes deep into the earth and then blasting out millions of gallons of water, sand and hazardous chemicals to split up rock and extract the gas contained inside.
Over 900 fracking wells have been drilled around the country – notably in Veracruz in the south is as well in the neighboring states of Oaxaca and Puebla. The Burgos Basin, a shale formation that lies under three northern states that border Texas – Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas – has also been targeted for exploration. Ultimately Pemex hopes to expand Mexican shale production to 45 percent of total output by 2026.
“We don’t know a thing about it,” Gabino Vicente, a local politician in Santa Úrsula, Oaxaca, told Inter Press News Service. “Normally, companies do not provide information to the local communities; they arrange things in secret or with some owners of land by means of deceit, taking advantage of the lack of money in the area.”
“Farmers are upset because they were not informed about what would happen to their land,” Ruth Roux, director of the Social Research Centre at the Autonomous University of Tamaulipas, told the news agency. “They’re starting to see things changing around them. (They) complain that their land fills up with water (and that) the land isn’t producing like before.”
Just as in other countries around the world, from Britain to South Africa, a local resistance movement is building quickly.
The Mexican Alliance Against Fracking presented a 14,000 signature petition to the Mexican parliament last July and staged protests in the capital city that drew an estimated 60,000 people. However, they were unable to stop Enrique Peña Nieto, the president of Mexico, from signing into law an energy bill that allows foreign investment and fracking in the country.
A few politicians have taken up this matter. “It is important that more Mexicans should know the truth about fracking,” Oaxaca Senator Benjamín Robles Montoya from the center left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), wrote on his public Facebook page. “It is an issue that should concern and distress everyone.”
“(Fracking) will have devastating consequences in the state of Chihuahua, from the intensive use of water and its contamination, and from methane emissions that produce 21 times more greenhouse gases than does carbon dioxide,” Chihuahua Senator Javier Corral from the center right National Action Party told Frontera NorteSur. “Over there (Chihuahua), where rain is not plentiful, how will they bring the (water) necessary for drilling a well?”
Water contamination is just one of the reported impact of fracking. Ruperto de la Garza, a geologist at the Gestoría Ambiental y de Riesgos consultancy, published a report last year that showed a statistical correlation between the fracking and earthquakes in Mexico with a large spike in such events in the state of Nuevo León.
“The one thing that has changed is the introduction of fracking. There is no other explanation,” Garza told the Global Post. His findings are consistent with research into earthquakes and fracking in eight U.S. states like Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. /
Mexican activists are now working to educate local communities about the extent of undisclosed fracking by Pemex. Last month CartoCrítica, an organization dedicated to the research and design of maps for use by civil society, released details of hundreds of fracking wells around the country.
Slowly activists are starting to slowly change popular attitudes to the technology. On June 21, activists from 11 Mexican states gathered in Papantla, Veracruz, (where 172 fracking wells have been drilled) to sign a joint statement to resist fracking among other destructive trechnologies. “Our lands, territories, rivers, basins, health and life are not commodities,” they wrote in their declaration. “The peoples of the mountains, valleys, plains and coasts will not allow entry to any project of death (hydroelectric, watershed diversions, pipelines, mining, deforestation, fracking or transgenic) to our territories.”