In recent days, fracking in the province of Neuquén has once again become the talk of the town. Community members of the Mapuche people, together with social organizations, have carried out roadblocks and blockades, warning of the lack of water and its contamination.
The protest refers to the green light given by the local and national governments to continue destroying the environment with drilling and fracking in Vaca Muerta. To talk about this serious situation, we consulted our journalist colleague Pablo Fernández, from Cartago TV.
–Neuquén has always been and is a hot province. Together with Salta in the 90s they inaugurated roadblocks and towns when YPF (Fiscal Petroleum Deposits) was handed over, a time when a lot of social mobility was generated, and also long before when the "Choconazo" was carried out. In other words, Neuquén is characterized by a very strong presence in testimonial terms of claims, improvements and struggles, but also advances and setbacks almost as a constant of what happens in a large part of our country.
Here is one of the first recovered factories in the country (Zanon) but also here the assassination of teacher Carlos Fuentealba took place, and at the same time this is one of the richest provinces in Argentina. The income that this province has, obviously does not translate into distribution but rather through the extraordinary sales that there are for the natural resources that are exploited, or for their derivatives, which makes it an area with a lot of money and business.
This is to explain the Vaca Muerta formation that is in Loma Campana, in the town of Danielo, about 200 kilometers from the capital of Neuquén. In this formation, a kind of Aleph occurs, many of the guidelines intersect with respect to where is the economic concentration that can be seen throughout the continent.
-Let's talk about fracking and how its use has been imposed.
-Here there are no cracks or dissonant views, the entire political caste supports fracking, defends it and raises it as a kind of "Eldoradista" view (by the Conquerors who longed to find El Dorado) regarding our salvation from any future.
This has been denounced for a long time by many studios, organizations, unions and personalities who are playing it, and they are clearly off the political map, because speaking against fracking in Neuquén, in political terms for what marketing is, is a suicide
If it is like this now, imagine eleven years ago when all this was just starting and they sold us that fracking did not pollute and brought progress but the people of Neuquén. We already knew that development of exploiting and bursting natural resources and escaping with the profits in a town called Rincón de los Sauces, or what they did in Loma La Lata as well, where the old Red Sol burst everything and left an environmental promenade that is still being studied.
The same is repeated in the province of Río Negro in the town of Cinco Saltos. There is a model of extractivism and environmental walk that is amazing. This is what happened with the Indupa plant, which is the largest mercury cemetery on the planet, and everything was destroyed there, including the town of Cinco Saltos, which is going through that history and all the disaster it left in the water and in the bodies of the persons.
This is how these evils continue to reproduce, fracking led us to another very serious problem that is Comarsa. This is a company that polluted, leaving the ground oiled in places where they had promised not to do so. Let's keep in mind that fracking, while causing so much disaster, causes waste disaster.
They are treated to render them inert, but in reality they are not treated and they are businesses that are done in accordance with environmental directions. To contaminate you always have to have two parties: the one who contaminates and the one who allows contamination. There, the state acts as a kind of guarantor in these businesses and leaves these environmental liabilities.
Let's say that fracking is filling the earth with cemeteries. We still do not have the answer to what can happen at the level of contamination in the bodies because that is seen only after a long time.
-Contamination is a part of this tragedy but there is also the lack of water.
-That's right, now comes the water issue and some flows began to dry up, there are very low levels and those who pay the most are the native peoples. They were in those formations and also live in those territories, for example Campo Maripe, which is one of YPF's main explorations, all the land was contaminated, but since that happens outside the cities and in towns that are in the countryside, far from urban daily life does not affect us.
The problem is that now this has reached very close to the city and the historical claim of the communities that had been warning about fracking is understood, because it not only pollutes and destroys but will also leave us without water, because the amounts that fracking absorbs that for all those practices are devastating.
It is beginning to be seen that they replicate with the earthquakes, near Neuquén, above Cutralcó, a historic city where large towns were built. There is a place called Sauzal Bonito, which is very close to the fort. More than four years ago they started with earthquakes. The earthquakes have become more and more frequent and the population is terrified.
-The local and national governments do not intervene in this situation?
-The consent to what is happening is tremendous because not only do they install the seismographs, but they also want to play down the situation and ignore it, and the problem is that the houses are splitting and the earthquakes are beginning to be more frequent.
That epic dilemma is produced that we see permanently in these models that propose development but in reality leave an environmental disaster, debts and looted towns.
Did they really not know that fracking was going to produce this? When all the evidence and complaints were already there, there are even countries that have already eradicated fracking and there are populations that have prohibited its entry. However, here they entered hand in hand with the last government of the current vice president, and with Macri they accelerated and imposed the logic of a strong hand.
The appearance of fracking leaves these cemeteries and environmental walks. There are lawyers who speak of environmental holocausts, which do not begin to be seen if it is not a trickle, and it really panics afterwards. That Neuquén, which is crossed by the Neuquen River and the Limay River, has a water emergency is very serious.
Imagine what can happen if that starts to drop, because the water emergency is not only that consumption drops, but also that you cannot generate electricity for the rest of the country like the El Chocón dam, but apart from that there are problems to take water, to bathe and lead a normal life. Also, added to everything that the pandemic is leaving us, we can add more problems regarding the economic situation.
What should be done to draw attention to all this that is happening, because we are always disseminating social agroecology issues and denouncing situations similar to the ones you describe, but they do not seem to be of interest.
It is as if there is a sleepy community that does not want to know what is happening.
-There are working groups that have accompanied the communities, who have been there for a long time without dismay or exhaustion, pushing these causes and making them known. The Multisector against Fracking was created here, which at times is a bit silent because it does not seem to give much entity but it has put the discussion there in the axis, within what is the local political folder.
Also, we have been working together for a long time with OPSur (Southern Oil Observatory), they were the initial cry of denunciation of what fracking was going to cause in Argentina in approximately 2010, denouncing that these imperial initiatives were going to lead to this, apart from a whole geopolitical move that is very impressive.
On the other hand, there is passivity because this is not happening to the “white man”, it is not happening to the urban middle class population that is much more mediated and committed to everyday things and not with a long-term view. As this happens to original peoples who are with their goats and lambs, 300 kilometers from the urban, it does not matter and is ignored.
They have been denouncing for ten years that the aquifers are being contaminated, now when water begins to be lacking and the water that exists is contaminated, it is possible that something will begin to be mobilized there.
Currently, the water emergency is here, it's here, it's going to be a very complicated summer and that will affect a large part of the basins that are contaminated or close to fracking.
Although the local corporate press is all pro-fracking, -the two local newspapers are from landowner groups-, and their views and energy supplements are pro-fracking, they can no longer deny that fracking pollutes, causes earthquakes and brings drought.
I think that many of these things derive, to make a cold and dialectical analysis, in a matter of rigor and violence, but the cost is always on the same side.
In Neuquén, a month has passed since a kitchen blew up and killed three teachers, as is the case of teacher Mónica Jara. Today Neuquén is generating very strong mobilizations called by one of the largest unions in the province, ATEN (Association of Education Workers of Neuquén). These problems continue to exist but they have been denouncing for years that the schools are not in good condition.
Aguada San Roque is on the way to Vaca Muerta, look at the level of looting that there is, that all the populations that are around the basins have precarious living conditions. It's a bit like what happens in Qatar, we talk fascinated about Messi but we don't see what Qatar is and why it has so much capital and what kind of society lives there, who governs and what happens.
That scenario of the Caliphate is also seen in these provinces where looting is monumental. The businesses of the political caste around fracking are very large, there is no one of that caste at the local level, of what is political merchandising, who is not linked to a service company regarding fracking.
This generates money and some will speak in favor of fracking, and their environmental responsibility is a joke. They are euphemisms to continue draining money with a more “eco friendly” look. Without forgetting that YPF is part of that, and that discussion must also continue to be maintained, because if we do not think that YPF and its oil fields are fiscal.
It is not like that, half of this company is private and with the populations affected by fracking, be it here in the town of Allen, which is in Río Negro, or in Sauzal Bonito, they behave like Chevron, they ignore them and they lie to them.
We have made many documentaries about the consequences of living near fracking, but not because one is going to live nearby, but because they install it there. Allen is the national capital of the pear but the pear has already disappeared, because it is completely contaminated. It is 30 kilometers from Neuquén and the water is drunk bottled, there is no one in Allen who wants to drink tap water.
The people who live there have to live with noise, pollution and disease and it is already beginning to seriously affect the population. Where fracking arrives, diseases and even the trafficking route arrive.
-Faced with this constant emergency, what would be the look that could help to modify the situation?
-The practical look regarding this indicates that until it stops affecting the most humble populations, as is the case of those who live there attached, both to the farms and to the sectors of the original peoples, it really does not have much impact. .
Until there is a problem of the white man, of the 35-year-old heterosexual who may have been moved, because he does not have water to fill the “pelopincho” pool, perhaps that is when he begins to realize it.
I do not want to be pessimistic but there is good information about it, many of these causes end up being paralyzed because there is a denial of what is the idiosyncrasy of seeing it as something personal but as something foreign, because "as it happens to the Mapuches that will not happen to me to me". Imagine if that happens to a province that has a Mapuche name as you can see in Rosario, Santa Fe or Buenos Aires.
I believe that the complaint and the commitment are there, that has not slackened because the years go by and the groups remain vigilant and there are more and more organizations, environmental lawyers, groups linked to the defense of land and communal property that also denounce this situation. .
Fracking brings that imperial initiative that brings disasters and at the end of profits, if you check the last five covers of local newspapers, between July and August, the productions are records. Therefore, Neuquén is earning more money than before the pandemic, the money is there and the consequences are there.
Here there is a complicity of the Neuquén political caste and the national political caste, which are aiming not only at Neuquén but at the entire country to positively accept extractivism and slowly condemn us.
The native populations are the ones that have the clearest understanding of this issue, not only because they are the most affected, but also because they have a totally different relationship with nature than those who live in large cities.
-The battles are there, and to win them you have to fight them, just as Neuquén has managed to stop mega-mining projects in a town called Loncopué. We have an accumulation of struggles and triumphs that is very large. It is also true that there are very complex battles and that would not mean certain defeat.
It is true that there is a lot of interest and capital behind this and that money translates into advertising for the media, comfort for journalists who prefer to work in YPF's human resources or the communication part and ignore the claims when they know that the claims are fair and concrete.
On the other hand, it is very good to investigate the service companies that are all linked to the fracking industry and the political caste. The oil union in Neuquén is a union plagued by mafias and practically governed by a family.
On the other hand, they are unions that in turn have service companies, such as the UOCRA, which by creating a job bank, later the inmates are shot. So we have all that broad spectrum to study it and to understand why it goes deep and the cost it will take.
I end with a fairly explanatory detail of what is happening: when the fracking thing started, YPF and several oil companies contacted the National University of Comahue and wanted to get technicians out of there directly, with all this "Eldoradista" look that fracking brings.
Then there was something that seemed very sinister to me: YPF released "The game of the Goose" or "El estanciero", to distribute in primary schools and demonstrate the goodness of fracking. This was not done by Chevron or Shell but by an Argentine company, hence the level of violence, cynicism and contempt of treating us like idiots, even the most innocent ones like the boys, when selling us these fracking games.
However, this is now forgotten, although it happened seven years ago, when it was said that fracking did not pollute.