Is Bolivia going to frack ‘Mother Earth’?

Source: The Guardian Unlimited

First steps towards producing shale gas meet with increasing concern among Bolivian civil society

The momentum is building. Bolivia’s state oil and gas company YPFB announced in early 2013 it would begin studies to identify shale gas deposits, and in November that same year it gave a presentation in Santa Cruz on shale gas and the country’s probable reserves. Also in 2013 it ordered companies to take samples of one particularly promising geological formation, sent a delegation to the Vaca Muerte shale gas deposits in Argentina, and signed an agreement with YPF, Argentina’s state oil and gas company, to “evaluate shale gas potential” in Bolivia’s Chaco region and train Bolivians in shale gas techniques.

That’s to say nothing of the “minifracking” that has already been done at one Bolivian well “with the support of the Halliburton company” and which found tight oil, according to Reporte Energia in June 2013 drawing on “trustworthy sources in the hydrocarbons industry.”

“The possibility that Bolivia will start extra-officially producing unconventional gas is slowly crystallizing,” Jorge Campanini, from Cochabamba-based CEDIB, wrote in a report on fracking in Latin America published in July 2014 by the Observatorio Petrolero Sur. “Extra-officially because there is no law that regulates hydraulic fracturing, but as a result of policy expanding the hydrocarbons frontier it’s possible to begin evaluations/studies – as well as conduct deep exploration – because nothing prohibits it.”

A new hydrocarbons law has been promised, though, and back in 2012 the Vice-Minister for Hydrocarbons Exploration and Exploitation was reported by media saying it would open the way for shale gas operations.

“The hydrocarbons bill is still officially a state secret,” Campanini told the Guardian, “but despite that we have managed to see a presentation which included a slide saying that the exploitation of unconventional gas would be included.”

Some Bolivians are immensely concerned. A collective of organisations and individuals calling itself the “Antifracking Movement in Bolivia” has emerged, and last October the Fundacion Solon in La Paz issued a “Declaration against Fracking in Bolivia”, describing it as a “highly risky and contaminating” technique using huge amounts of water and highly toxic chemicals with devastating health impacts.

“If Bolivia exploits its 48 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, 242 billion litres of water will be contaminated forever and 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide will be emitted, further contributing to climate change,” the Declaration states.

In December Bolivians Fabrizio Uscamayta and Martin Vilela, from TierrActiva and the Bolivian Platform on Climate Change, travelled to Peru to present the fracking threat to the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature. They told the Tribunal the Chaco was a “very, very vulnerable” region, that fracking posed serious dangers to rare water sources, and that it would massively increase the country’s carbon emissions.

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