Argentina

Shale Gas: The Mapuche protest against Chevron and Total

by Sophie Chapelle

In Argentina, it’s the Mapuche’s turn to oppose the exploitation of shale gas and tight oil. More than 5000 people demonstrated in Neuquén, Patagonia, against the ratification by the provincial legislature of an accord between the Argentinian company YPF and the American oil major Chevron.

This article was originally published in French. Translation: Laurence Daireaux.

The accord allows the exploitation of a hundred shale gas wells at Vaca Muerta, a place the US Geological Survey considers one of the world’s largest shale gas and oil reserves. If successful, the exploitation would expand to an area as large as 300km2. The investment would be about 15 billion dollars.

The president of Argentina Cristina Kirchner claims this contract with Chevron will help the country meet its own energy needs and become a fossil fuel exporter by 2020. The problem is that the agreement was imposed without the consent of the Mapuche communities, although when their lands are included in the accord [1]. Fondation France Libertés also warns against the negative impact this project would have on regional water supplies and local streams. "The indigenous communities of Neuquén still suffer from the heavy sanitary, economical and ecological consequences of years of oil drilling", says Diego di Risio, of the Observatorio Petrolero Sur.

Not far behind Chevron, Total

Last August’s demonstration which had been organized by trade unions, the Mapuche Confederation, local political figures and Neuquen’s coalition against hydraulic fracking was violently suppressed by the police, leaving 25 people injured (watch the video). As a result, 10 000 people went to the streets the day after to protest again. "Unfortunately it did not prevent the burning and destructions of houses in Campo Maripe’s Mapuche community, where YPF and Chevron want to exploit shale gas", deplores the French branch of Friends of the Earth in a press release asking the Argentinian government to stop this spiral of violence.

"Chevron is only the tip of the iceberg. The other companies, including Total, must give up any project of shale exploitation in the country", adds Juliette Renaud, extractive industries campaigner at Friends of the Earth. The governmental decree which complements the agreement between YPF and Chevron aims to incentives the development of non-conventional fossil fuel exploitation through a number of fiscal advantages, export assistance and price guarantee mechanisms. Many international oil companies, such as Total, are getting ready to join Chevron in Argentina. Total produced 30% of Argentina’s gas in 2012 and owns six shale gas concessions, which have had "positive" results to fracking. So far, 15 local governments in 5 provinces have banned tracking in Argentina.