Trust vs Uncertainty in Argentine Communities

By Sam Rubright, MPH, CPH – with contributions from Ana Wieman and editing by Cecilia G. Flocco, PhD

While the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is a globally critical issue (link updated in 2018) with significant implications for the oil and gas industry, the same industry encounters on-the-ground challenges in many places where extraction occurs. Argentina is now experiencing those challenges firsthand.

Argentina, South America’s 3rd largest economy, could have 801.5 trillion cubic feet of wet shale gas (more than unproven US reserves), and 27 billion barrels of tight oil.1 Oil and gas companies are excited about the prospects. Argentina has even started to produce its own sand for the hydraulic fracturing process in an attempt to reduce the cost of drilling and attract investors. Already, however, community concerns about environmental health and safety are rising to the surface.

Allen, Argentina

Allen is a city in the Río Negro (“Black River”) province of Argentina, located at the northern edge of the Patagonia region. It is known for its rich fruit production and hosts approximately 27,000 inhabitants as of the most recent census.2,3 Allen is also home to shale oil and gas drilling currently being conducted by Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), Argentina’s renationalized energy company.

On July 21, 2015, two separate incidents occurred near Allen. In the first case, a violent decompression at the well4 triggered what was likely a blowout. The spray that resulted caused hydrocarbons to be deposited into a lagoon that flows into the Black River, the province’s namesake and one of the main water sources for the arid Patagonian plateau. Clean up efforts took place immediately, although there was a lack of awareness that a rural community, Calle Ciega #10, lives very close to the drilling activity.5 Less than 24 hours later, Ysur, a YPF contractor, damaged an aqueduct near the town, leaving coastal area residents without drinking water.6

Mirroring community concerns near drilling operations in the US, residents of Calle Ciega #10 have felt the effects ever since the industry came to town; living near such intense industrial activity, they say, has put them all on edge. They worry about everything from cracking foundations, fire and explosions, potential gas leaks, to the heavy truck traffic. Organic farmers are even having trouble selling their produce due to the proximity of oil and gas operations to their fields. The uncertainty of it all is the biggest problem; residents have gone so far as to protest the recent incidents by blocking access to one of wells in the area (EFO 250).7 The neighbors’ concerns were brought to a civil court by Rio Negro province’s Ombudsman, action resulting in ordering environmental impact investigations and in ceasing activities at the well (EFO 280).8

Below you will find some photos from Allen, showing the trucks that transport water for the drilling, a warehouse for sand and ceramics, the well where there were two explosions in recent history, and piping that goes into a neighbor’s yard – Submitted by Ana Wieman:

Trust vs Uncertainty

Argentine communities are fighting a battle between trusting that the industry and government will properly manage oil and gas operations and being left in the dark about public health and safety risks. In addition to the incidents in Allen, a major cyanide spill from a gold mine9 in San Juan province in September (exploited by Canadian Barrick Gold Corp.) has added fuel to public concerns about how Argentine natural resources, as well as the response to incidents and information, are being handled. Inconsistent messages elevate community tensions, leaving a trail of doubt and uncertainty in their wake.

“Vos y yo, bebemos la misma agua.” = “You and I, we drink the same water.”
– Facebook sentiment by Elvio Mendioroz, Argentina


Footnotes and Additional Resources

  1. World Shale Resource Assessments. (2015). US EIA
  2. Rio Negro Province Census (2010)
  3. Geographic coordinates: 38°58′00″S 67°50′00″O
  4. Excavadora dejó dos barrios sin agua (Excavator left two neighborhoods without water). (2015). Rionegro.com.ar
  5. EFO well 280 located between the rural road 11 and Route 22
  6. Escape de petróleo cayó a una laguna en Allen (Escape of oil fell to a lagoon in Allen). (2015). Rionegro.com.ar
  7. Allen: “La vida cambió para peor” alertan vecinos por petrolera (Allen: “Life changed for the worse” Neighbors alert the oil company’s presence). Rionegro.com.ar
  8. La Justicia buscará determinar el posible impacto ambiental del pozo EFO 280. (The Justice will determine the possible environmental impact of well EFO 280). (2015). defensoriarionegro.gov.ar
  9. Cyanide Spill Resources:
    1. Argentina: El cianuro llega al río (Argentina: Cyanide reaches the river). (2015). Biodiversity in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    2. Jáchal y San Juan reclaman la prohibición de la minería a cielo abierto tras el derrame de cianuro en la mina de Barrick Gold (Jáchal and San Juan demand the ban on open pit mining after the cyanide spill at Barrick Gold mine). (2015). lavaca.org.
    3. Por el derrame de cianuro en San Juan, piden incluir los delitos ambientales en el Código Penal (For the cyanide spill in San Juan, they ask to include environmental crimes in the Penal Code). (2015). Cronista.com.
    4. Derrame de Cianuro en San Juan (Cyanide spill in San Juan). (2015). About the cyanide spill in the Veladero mine, San Juan – TV news show
    5. Jáchal, cuando ya nadie te nombre (Jáchal, when no one will say your name – anymore). (2015). De Tierras y de Utopias Viaje Documental – From Lands and Utopies, documentary of the spill in Jáchal that resulted in years of existing water problems
    6. Jorge Lanata’s interview with Simón Ernesto about the spill in Veladero. (2015) by Canal Zeta y Cero, Argentina

Please note: Many of the resources we accessed to write this story, as well as most correspondence, were in Spanish. Please alert Sam to any translation errors: malone@fractracker.org.

Happy Holidays from the FracTracker Alliance

Happy Holidays from FracTracker Alliance

Whether you are coming to our website for the first time or are a regular consumer of our work, we hope our maps, data, stories, and photos are informative, insightful, and, occasionally, inspiring.

If you’re one of the many organizations and institutions collaborating with us to expose harms, we hope our services and partnership have been of great value in your advocacy or research aims.

As 2015 closes, extraction impacts continue. While drilling has slowed in many areas, pipeline construction has accelerated and oil trains roll through our cities posing excruciating risk. Our activities – and those of the many brave groups fighting to protect their communities – remain critical. The urgency is amplified by the dire state of our climate and oceans, symptoms of fossil fuel dependency. FracTracker’s crucial role is to examine the exhaustive footprint and effects of extraction while illuminating better paths forward.

Our last name is Alliance – a word that can be defined as ‘pact.’ Our pact is with the people whose lives have been turned upside down and the advocates working nonstop for a sustainable future. It’s an Alliance for everyone who cherishes the common home we call Earth.

At this reflective time of year, we are thankful for all who take the time to learn about these heavy issues and exercise their concern. We’re grateful for cooperation and collegiality that strengthen our collective impact. We deeply appreciate the foundations and individuals who support us and enable our work, including the many patrons who attended our first-ever film night and fundraiser in September. At that event, we celebrated environmental heroes receiving community sentinel awards for their stewardship. What a difference committed people can make!

At this giving time of year, we ask you to consider a year-end contribution to the FracTracker Alliance. We ask this humbly, as we know there are many causes worthy of your support, including our sister organizations also addressing the energy and climate challenge. Every dollar helps so please give what you can, but do so knowing that your gift will be used smartly in service of our noble mission.

On behalf of the entire FracTracker team, best wishes for a peaceful holiday season!

Happy Holidays,

Sig2

Brook Lenker,
Executive Director,
FracTracker Alliance


Interview with Craig Stevens – Sentinel Award Winner

Kirk Jalbert, FracTracker’s Manager of Community Based Research & Engagement, interviews Craig Stevens, one of FracTracker’s 2015 Community Sentinels Award Winners.

CraigStevens&MarkRuffalo

Craig Stevens (on right) with actor Mark Ruffalo

Craig Stevens is a 6th generation landowner from Silver Lake Township in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Craig and his neighbors have experienced first-hand the truck traffic, noise, air pollution, and water contamination issues that often accompany shale gas extraction. Beginning in 2011 Craig began arranging tours of Susquehanna Co. to share affected residents’ stories with the press. This work has attracted citizens, journalists, elected officials, and celebrities from all over the world who now see Susquehanna Co. as an example of what could happen in their own backyards. We spoke with Craig about his work.

Q: Perhaps we can start by telling the readers your story, how you come back to Pennsylvania and how this led to your advocacy work related to oil and gas development?

Craig: Well, I was born in California in 1960, lived there for 46 years. Then my dad got sick in 2006; he was diagnosed with terminal esophageal cancer. My brother and sister and I ended up inheriting the ancestral 115-acre property. I had visited there my whole life, every couple of years, but I knew nothing about oil and gas or coal or any extraction methods and pretty much grew up at the beach in Southern California. Nobody in the family wanted to keep the family property, so I moved up here in January of 2010. The first thing I did was to check the deed to make sure that it had been transferred to our names. That’s when I found a gas lease for the property. On my father’s deathbed, he told us not to have anything to do with the industry, that he had refused to sign a lease. But then I did my research and found out Chesapeake Energy had signed my 95 year old grandmother, who was living in a nursing home, to a ten year oil and gas lease. My grandmother was a tenant but did not own the property. In Pennsylvania, and many other states, you can’t transfer mineral rights to anybody that’s a life tenant because that is part of a real estate deal. But they did it, they recorded it on our deed, tying up all of our mineral rights and giving it to Chesapeake Energy.

The second thing that got me fired up was when I was riding my three-wheeler and found a company had staked out a half-mile area right down the middle of our property. They were looking to put in a 16-inch pipeline without our permission or knowledge. So I pulled all the stakes out, went into town, and found the company. They right there offered me money. They said, well, we are going to put this in and we appreciate it if your family signed up, because we need to get this gas to market. After I refused their offer they told me all my neighbors had signed along the route already and I was going to be holding things up. Then they said, the state wants us here and they are going to give us Certificate of Public Convenience, so we are going to take your property either way. So that was my introduction to the gas industry.

Q: You have said in the past that we need to think about how we deal with shale gas extraction’s impacts as a matter of helping each other deal with civil and human rights abuses. Can you explain what you mean by that?

A: I was raised always to think globally, but act locally. Because everything that happens in our lives happens in our backyard and that is where things go. I was very politically active from a young age. My father got us all politically active. My older brother and my younger sister, at 10 years old, 8 years old, we were going to city council meetings and town council and county commission meetings, just because my dad was interested in what was going on in his community. Back then my neighbors in Dimock, PA, were having a problem. So I thought, I better find out what’s happening. Not only help them, because they are having a problem that doesn’t look like it’s resolved, but also to help prevent it from coming to Silver Lake Township. I always try to help people that are having a problem, especially with big people and bullies. So it was natural for me to stand with them and I started to tell my own story at the same time.

The Citizens’ Perspective

Q: Tell me about some of the projects you have been involved in that bring the public into shale gas debates. For instance, I know you organize regular tours of gas fields. Who attends these tours? What do you think they learn from visiting gas communities?

A: We’ve had 40 sitting assembly members and 8 state senators from New York State visit Susquehanna Co. We have had hundreds of mayors and town supervisors and country commissioners come and see first hand from a citizens’ perspective. We have had 60 countries come and send their public television stations. One of our tours was with Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono, Susan Sarandan, Arun Gandhi (Gandhi’s grandson) and Josh Fox. They had 35 journalists with them, including Rolling Stone. When they come we tell these people, also go take an industry tour, so they can see the other side. We encourage it because we don’t want them to think we are just bashing them and that they don’t get to defend themselves. Our thing was, if we highlight what is happening in our little neck of the woods then we could educate by showing the truth and affect the debate. Of course we were attacked viciously by the oil and gas industry, and by Energy in Depth, but also by the local elected officials that were pro-gas.

Q: This obviously requires a community effort. How have people and organizations in the area come together through these actions, and have they been able to develop more power by not just working as individuals?

A: Well here is the interesting thing. When I moved here, there were about 50 people that would show up at public meetings to discuss their first-hand experiences. These were people from Dimock, PA, and other surrounding areas. Besides that, there really was no collective organizing in Northeastern Pennsylvania. But we found that, by telling our stories, we brought the interest of organizations like New Yorkers Against Fracking and Mark Ruffalo’s group, Water Defense. They started to adopt us. I and other families started to travel all over, not only in New York but also in New Jersey and Ohio, to educate people. I realized that I was meant to take these stories further out. I took them to all these State Houses — North Carolina, Florida, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Ohio. In California I was allowed to go and sit with the Governor’s entire Cabinet in his executive office. I was very proud to go there since I grew up in California.

Q: In the bigger picture of protecting our environment, why do you think it’s important for concerned citizens to get involved in these kinds of activities?

A: I have four children who will not live on the same clean planet that I did; as dirty as we thought it was in the ‘60s and ‘70s when I grew up, this is going to make that look like the heyday of environmental cleanliness. I’m doing this because I really believe this is a generational suicide we’re experiencing. By not telling this story, I would be complicit. When people see the gas company’s commercials and hear the radio ads, it sounds like the truth because it’s coming from credible people. By facing up to these giants, and showing people that you can do it and win like in New York, that can start a grassroots fire all around the world. And that has happened if you look at what is happening in England and Poland and Spain and France and Germany. We are proud to be part of that movement.

Q: What would you say is the most valuable insight you have learned from working with people fighting the gas industry?

A: The most valuable lesson for me is that people power trumps corporate power. People sometimes just don’t realize that they have an inner strength – that an average person who knew nothing about this five and a half or six years ago can get involved and become leaders. I’m more excited today than ever. I went to Florida. They have some very bad chemical non-disclosure bills. Right now we have 15 counties and 35 cities in Florida that have passed resolutions for bans of fracking for oil or gas in Florida. Maryland is safe until October of 2017 because of their moratorium. So what we are doing is working. I try to remind people, and everyone out there should know this, that you are a federal citizen, the same you are a citizen of the state or Commonwealth or republic that you live in. You are protected constitutionally and legally as a federal taxpayer. So the federal government can’t just throw us to the wolves of these individual states. They have to act. If they don’t, then they need to step down and let somebody get in there that has the health and safety of their citizens at the top of their list of what they are supposed to be doing every day in their position of power.

 

 

Florida resolutions against oil drilling

Florida resolutions opposing unconventional oil drilling

By Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator

Florida, where there has long been an interest in drilling for oil, has recently come into the cross-hairs for unconventional extraction several miles beneath the state. Oil drilling has had spotty and elusive success in the Sunshine State, but new technologies like hydraulic fracturing – fracking – could potentially provide access to those energy resources. Currently, Florida is in a gray zone, however, with no clear regulatory authority over unconventional drilling, but no clear mandate to prevent it either.

History

Florida well. Source: www.naplesnews.com

Dan Hughes well adjacent to Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge Source: www.naplesnews.com

In 2014, fracking came to the forefront when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection disclosed that in 2013, the Dan A. Hughes Company filed for a permit to use unconventional drilling techniques to rework an existing conventional well in Naples without a thorough review of the plans by regulators, and fracked the well later that year. As a result, the permit was revoked. Hughes had leases on 115,000 acres of land for additional wells, much of which was in environmentally sensitive areas of the Florida Everglades, bordering the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Big Cypress National Preserve. After legal pressure from the State of Florida, as well as environmental groups Preserve our Paradise, the Stone Crab Alliance, and South Florida Wildlands Association, the company abandoned their plans for drilling in the area. FracTracker covered this story in a previous blog entry.

A plan to regulate fracking in Florida was unveiled in November 2014. A slate of regulations was drafted by the Orange County League of Women Voters and students in the Environmental and Earth Clinic at Barry Law School, and drew upon examples from 14 states that had already grappled with the issue. While this plan specifies how, when, and where fracking may occur in Florida, it also leaves open the option for communities to ban the practice within its bounds altogether. Democratic Senators Darren DeSoto and Dwight Bulland introduced a bill (SB 166) in the 2015 legislative session that would ban fracking entirely, but they also emphasized the need for rules to be in place governing the practice, were that ban to be overturned. That bill did not advance beyond the Senate’s Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, but was reintroduced in August 2015, with additional components that would also prohibit well stimulation.

In April 2015, two bills were presented on the floor of the State Senate and House of representatives: one to create regulations on the practice of fracking (SB 1468), and another that would permit non-disclosure of fracking chemicals by industry (SB 1582). Both bills passed in committee in April 2015, and are set to move on to further consideration by the full House and Senate.

In late April 2015, a bill (HB 1205) passed in the Florida House that would allow fracking to continue, but would put a moratorium on the practice until a study and regulations were in place. HB 1209, would also have exempted industry from disclosure of fracking chemicals. Because the Senate did not take up discussion on either bill and due to an early adjournment of the House, however, neither the Senate nor the House moved ahead on either bill during the 2015 Legislative session.

Using a similar strategy to New York State, which successfully banned high volume hydraulic fracturing for gas in June 2015, dozens of communities across Florida have taken to passing resolutions against unconventional drilling within their municipal bounds. The resolutions cite concerns about water quality, habitat protection, and impacts on endangered species that may result from this technology that aims to extra oil from rock layers more than 14,000 feet below the surface.

In July 2015, the Bonita Springs, Florida (Lee County) took their resolution one step further; the city council unanimously approved a ban on fracking within the city limits. Collier Resources, owner of thousands of acres of land within Bonita Springs, vigorously objected, and threatened lawsuits against the city’s decision. The company is predicting that the ban will be overturned by statewide legislation that permits fracking to occur. Meanwhile, Estero Village, also in Lee County, plans to take up legislation for a similar ban this month, with a vote expected on December 16th, 2015.

On the cusp of this vote, the concerns of dozens of communities across Florida have been registered in local resolutions opposing hydraulic fracturing within their municipal boundaries. Meanwhile, bills that would remove the rights of local municipalities to regulate fracking (HB 191 and SB 318) are also proceeding through legislative channels and will be taken up by the Florida State Legislature when it reconvenes in January 2016.

Florida Resolutions Map

This map shows the locations of those communities, most recently updated November 2016. Click here for a full-screen view with map legend.

Community activists in Estero Village are in a race against time to pass this ban; opposing legislation is before the Florida State Legislature that would make it so that only the state, not municipalities, can exercise authority over oil exploration.

The 2016 legislative session will present many important debates and votes on this important issue.

Sources