All seven members of the Cinco Saltos City Council voted unanimously to ban the unconventional exploration or extraction of hydrocarbons, including hydraulic fracture, the shale gas and oil drilling technique known more commonly as ‘fracking’. The ordinance cites human health and environmental consequences that could result from “contaminating emissions”. According to councilman José Chandía, the ordinance’s author, Cinco Saltos is the first jurisdiction in Latin America to establish such a ban.
The town of 27,000 has already suffered mercury contamination via the chemical product Indupa during the 1990s. It lies in the north-western corner of Patagonian province Río Negro, not far from the Vaca Muerta oil basin, the largest unconventional deposit in Latin America, according to the Argentine government and oil company YPF. The Chevron Corporation and YPF finalised an agreement to exploit Vaca Muerta yesterday.
One of the primary concerns detailed in the ordinance is water supply safety. “The extraction generates amounts of liquid waste that contain dissolved chemicals. There is no guarantee that these liquids remain contained and are not circulated in the drinking water.” It continues by describing them. “For each perforation, 200,000 cubic metres [of water] are needed for the hydraulic fracture. Five hundred chemicals are used, among them 17 toxic to aquatic organisms, 38 severely toxic, and eight proven to be carcinogenic. These chemicals mean a total of four tonnes of toxics per well.”
Water remains a primary concern because so much is used in the fracking process. The technique requires a large quantity of water and pressurized chemicals to break the ‘mother rock’, release the hydrocarbon inside, and pump it above ground.
The law diverges from the national government’s general enthusiasm for fracking opportunities. Last June, YPF head Miguel Gallucio revealed the company’s five-year plan, which includes an initial investment of US$1.36bn to test unconventional drilling techniques, with more slated for 2013-2017. To Chandía, the ordinance “is against the national government’s political decision to advance fracking.” Pablo Domínguez of the Comahue Permanent Assembly for Water (APCA) adds, “We are demonstrating that the community can decide what future it wants and how it wishes to live, and not leave those decisions in the hands of the government or corporations.”