With news that huge deposits of shale gas – potentially the third largest in the world – have been found underground in Neuquén, the prospect of fracking in Argentina is greater than ever. Hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – is the process of extracting buried deposits of gas and oil by pumping water, chemical and sand miles under the ground. It’s detractors say it causes irreparable environmental damage and has been the source of small earthquakes while those extolling its virtues believe that exploiting this natural resource could make Argentina gas-independent, meaning they would no longer have to important the fuel.
Does the environmental damage outweigh the economic benefits? Robin Minchom takes to the streets to see what the people in Buenos Aires think. Photos by Diego Espinosa.
Carmela Mirabelli, Lawyer, 27, Palermo
Lucrative activities have nothing to do with the state. This activity, which seems to me a public activity, is something that interests all of us because it is a technique that could end up harming the environment which affects us all and not just Argentines, the whole world. For such a delicate subject should be debated, should be voted in a referendum – we should all participate and it’s not really about being against or in favour of this government. It’s much bigger than something one government should be able to decide on because the consequences of what could happen are enormous.
The right to and access to information are absolutely fundamental otherwise we will never be able to make conscious decisions about what is best for us. When talking about a subject that affects all of us, the politicians need to communicate to us. We can read the newspapers, but there also needs to be a politics of communication; we can’t just rely on a few journalists.
We need to know more about the pros and the cons and if the cons affect all of us and, what’s more are irreversible, say no more, that’s not negotiable. You can’t undo the damage you do to the environment.
Nehuén Perrotta, Juggler, 20, Llavallol
I’m against anything that damages the environment. Unfortunately few people understand the notion of it – look at how people treat water. For me the most important thing is nature and that is the least cared for.
I don’t believe them [the government and private companies who say they will do a responsible job]. What happens now when people deal with nature is they don’t do the studies that they need to, things like that. If someone is investigating fauna, then they won’t investigate the flora and they’re destroying both of their habitats; humans change everything.
Maybe it’s possible to do it while doing the least damage possible but they’d still be harming nature, but that’s how it goes. If you go into the whole economic side of it, it only ever benefits a few people. If it was better distributed … if it is like you say and we’re all going to be great afterwards fair enough but generally it ends up benefitting few. In Europe maybe it’s more controlled, here people are less conscious.
If we’re talking about what’s most important for me, it’s not worth it, but if we’re talking about the whole country, maybe, who knows?
Lucas Mueño, Administration, 33, Avellaneda
We are never going to find out if this gas is really being used to stop imports and is being used for the country’s economy. What I see these days is that we’re all human beings, we’re advancing a lot, so if it’s possible we should do it. We’ve arrived at a moment where we all have mobile phones and things we couldn’t have dreamed of 20, 30 years ago. I sincerely believe that the human being is very capable – I’m not talking about Argentines or anyone in particular, just human beings in general. If we can find a way to extract the gas without harming the environment, perfect. That the government does it properly and takes all the necessary means for all the economic benefits, I doubt it. I doubt it. You’ve got to have faith but knowing how things are and how they go about their business, it’s a shame. It’s a shame that we’re that capable but things like this only benefit a few, rather than everyone.
Whether they’ll do it correctly, I can’t say anything but I’m in agreement that we should make the most of our own resources. It’s better that our own country does it rather than companies from elsewhere. We should exploit the land. We’ve got fields and those have served us well but if we can do something with this gas, I think it would be good.
Marta, Teacher, 70, Mendoza Province
For me the environment is the most important because in the end, it’s us that are going to suffer. The benefits don’t reach the general population; they stay in the hands of those who run the business.
The risks seem too dangerous to try out this method which may cause tremors. If they don’t harm the environment and contaminate water, etc., they can do it but you always need to take care not to contaminate, something that could affect the local population.
I suppose you’ve got to trust the government and the private companies to do a responsible job, you’ve got to trust something but I don’t think they should try out this new technique. If it might cause tremors … I don’t live here, I live in a province where there are a lot of tremors. Every now and then we get tremors and they are not pleasant at all, and that’s very close to Neuquén [where the gas has been found]. We should find a more ecological way, that doesn’t contaminate and damage the environment.
Hernán Pérez, Lawyer, 51, Barrio Norte
I don’t think the environmental damage is that important if what we achieve is progress for the country. To make a tortilla you’ve got to break some eggs and the tortilla isn’t a bad thing, is it? When they built the Pan-American [Highway], people were complaining that they were chopping down lots of trees but if they hadn’t taken the trees down at that moment, they wouldn’t have been able to build it. There is always going to be someone who will complain about something that’s being done, there’s no doubt that will always happen. The cost-benefit is what we’ve got to look at.
If with this what we will achieve is that we have our own gas so we don’t have to buy, beyond the economic benefit, there will be more industry in the country and the province of Neuquén will be good. If not we have to live off air and nothing will get done. I think that progress is always good but there will always be someone complaining.
Private companies are going to look for their own benefits and they’re going to want to do the thing well to be able to get the most money out of it and the state has to control it so that the companies do it properly. We need those who are supposed to control it do a good job.