This week, we continue our four-part guest series on hydraulic fracturing in Mexico written by Frontera NorteSur, Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico. We thank the Center for permission to publish their work.
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Likely springing from deep foreign pockets, overall investments between $100-250 billion are projected as necessary to develop the Mexican national shale gas industry during the next decade.
For Federico Alanis, owner of a small aluminum business in the border city of Reyosa, Tamaulipas, fracking is the future. “We have to renovate or die,” Alanis said. Shale dollars, Alanis added, represent a “blessing from God.”
But others in northern Mexico do not see a divine hand in fracking. Residents of Nuevo Leon and at least one academic study point the finger at fracking, (already underway on a large scale in neighboring Texas) for an increase in earthquakes during the last two years.
Scores of homes in Las Enramadas, Nuevo Leon, have purportedly suffered fractures to walls and floors. Elias Gonzalez, resident of Garza Gonzalez, Nuevo Leon, told the Mexican press he had spent nearly $2,000 repairing damages to his floor from a quake. Students preparing for a springtime festival this year at the Repueblo de Oriente school were startled when the earth shook, breaking building windows and sending the children into a panic.
A January 2014 study authored by the engineering faculty of the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon linked the spike in earthquakes to natural geological movements, natural gas extraction, the over-exploitation of aquifers, and barite mining.
Water is a huge concern, especially considering that much of the area of the country mapped out for fracking is in an arid zone that is likely to get only drier according to the predictions of climate scientists.
Javier Melendez, former sectional president of Samalayuca, Chihuahua, a small community just south of Ciudad Juarez, warned that the desert environment should be treated differently in light of the delicate state of natural resources, of which water is the principal one.
“Without water, we would be ushering in a catastrophe for this entire zone of Chihuahua,” Melendez said.
The movement against fracking is growing across Mexico. A national organization, the Alliance against Fracking, is petitioning Mexican legislators to ban the gas extraction method. Coahuila Bishop Raul Vera and Chihuahua Congresswoman Martha Beatriz Cordova have added their voices to the fracking opposition. Last April, hundreds of small farmers from Chihuahua who blockaded the Bridge of Americas between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso listed looming fracking projects as among their grievances laid out in the Chamizal Proclamation.
At the end of June, the Chihuahua Citizen Alliance against Fracking was christened at a meeting in the state capital of Chihuahua City. Promoted by Chihuahua Senator Javier Corral of the National Action Party (PAN), the alliance brings together non-governmental organizations, students and militants from both right and left political parties.
Corral contended that the fracking issue had been downplayed in the Mexican press, with opponents characterized as enemies of economic and social progress. The broader economic benefit of fracking is highly exaggerated, Corral insisted to a Mexican reporter.
“This is a big tale,” the senator said. “(Fracking) doesn’t employ many people, and it is expensive considering the big machines that it uses.” Corral said the current focus on exploiting shale energy resources is coming at the expense of other energy choices Mexico should be adopting.
“The problem is that they want to continue delaying other alternative sources of energy in favor of extracting hydrocarbons,” he said. “And what this does is set us back another 50 years extracting sources of fossil fuels when the country should be investing in renewable energy and a real energy plan that is not just petroleum based.”
Conversely, others in powerful positions dismiss the negative reports about fracking.
“There is no scientific evidence from respectable sources, which are not downloaded from Google, that fracking generates tremors in Nuevo Leon, in Texas, or anywhere else,” said PRI party Senator David Penchyna, Senate energy commission president. “There are many interests involved in this issue.”
Penchyna’s pronouncements to the contrary, serious scientific evidence keeps accumulating that ties fracking to negative environmental consequences.
For instance, Purdue University scientists published a report this spring in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that found shale gas wells in Pennsylvania emitted methane, a powerful greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide, on the order of 100 to 1,000 times the rate of earlier estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
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