This week, we continue with the third part of our 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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As we discussed last week, fracking opponents argue that fracturing results in earthquakes. After geologists detected a probable relationship between earthquakes and fracking in Ohio, the state government recently moved to require seismic monitoring for new gas drilling permits.
Similarly, another study published this month in the journal Science reported on the probable links between fracking and earth movements in Oklahoma, where the number of earthquakes registered on the Richter Scale of 3.0 or greater soared from an average of one annual event during 1976 to 2007 to 44 per year from 2008 to 2013; so far this year, 233 such earthquakes have occurred in Oklahoma, according to the report.
An unusual ripple of earthquakes in neighboring Texas and Kansas preceded a Oklahoma meeting earlier this year where government regulators from the three states discussed fracking standards.
Critics, however, assert fracking cannot be done in an environmentally-friendly manner. “Making fracking safe is simply not possible, not with the current technology, or with the inadequate regulations being proposed,” Louis Allstadt, former executive vice president of Mobil Oil, was quoted earlier this year.
Security is another thorny issue hanging over a Mexican fracking boom. It just so happens that the geography of Mexico’s shale gas reserves is populated by organized crime groups, particularly the Zetas, which have long mastered the theft and distribution of gasoline and diesel as a profitable endeavor.
“Organized crime, which is going to watch the (energy) businesses, is an operative cost of security,” said Alejandro Islas, head of the Mexico City-based Risk Evaluation consulting business.
The relatively short life of shale gas wells, which Mexican geologist Dr. Luca Ferrari Pedraglio pegs at two years, almost lends itself to irregular business practices in a political system where functionaries frequently change faces and regulatory capacities are limited.
Will fracking present lucrative opportunities for extortion fees, kidnappings, product heists, or outright ownership of production facilities? Taken together, the potential profits to organized crime from fracking could easily dwarf the revenue stream from illegal drugs.
Given the enormous amount of capital and profits at stake, some Mexican analysts like John Saxe-Fernandez and Victor Quintana foresee a redoubled militarization in fracking land, implemented by the Mexican army, private security firms in the mold of the old Blackwater firm and foreign mercenaries with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In a recent article, Quintana compared Mexico with Ukraine in terms of the political power and energy industry dynamics at play.
Wrote Quintana: “The interests of the transnational oil companies, the U.S. government, (President) Pena Nieto, the PRI and the majority of the PAN require the imposition of gas shale exploitation on the northern border of our country, with all the force of legal, paralegal and even illegal institutions at a given moment. This is the size of the enemy that confronts the people of Mexico.”
For now, the future of fracking rests with the Mexican Congress, whose members will take up the issue in the days ahead.
If the voting follows the pattern that’s prevailed on major economic reforms since the beginning of the Pena Nieto presidency in December 2012, in which the president’s PRI party has teamed up with members of other political parties to pass contentious labor, education, taxation, energy and telecommunications reforms, an absolute ban or moratorium on fracking seems unlikely.
Mexico’s Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources is expected to review draft regulations for the drilling of shale gas and the disposal of toxic waste later this fall. The proposed rules will touch on water consumption and pollution, chemicals, earth tremors and worker safety.
Inter-Press Service, June 28, 2014. Article by Emilio Godoy. Oilprice.com, June 20, 2014. Article by James Burgess. Norte, April 11, 2014; May 1 and 2, 2014. Articles by Felix Gonzalez and Claudia Sanchez. Lapolaka.com, April 13, 2014; May 19, 2014; June 12 and 17, 2014; July 1, 2014. Semanario, April 1, 2014. Article by Emilio Godoy/IPS. La Jornada, March 15 and 23, 2014; May 15, 2015. June 7, 14, 17, 25, 30, 2014; July 3 and 4, 2014. Articles by San Juana Martinez, John Saxe-Fernandez, Andrea Becerril. Erick Muniz, Arturo Sanchez Jimenez, Miroslava Breach, Victor Quintana, Reuters, Associated Press. El Diario de Juarez, March 15 and April 4, 2014. Articles by Patricia Mayorga Ordonez and editorial staff. Commondreams.org, December 17, 2013. Sarah Lazare. April 11, 15 and 23, 2014; June 6, 2014. Articles by Jacob Chamberlain, Lauren McCauley and Jon Queally. Arrobajaurez.com, March 16, 2014. El Heraldo de Chihuahua, March 16, 2014.