Mapuche Indigenous communities in Argentina are fighting to stop fracking of the world’s second biggest shale-gas deposit.
‘We’ve lost all fear,’ says lonko (traditional leader) Albino. He and his family are preparing an asado – an Argentine-style barbecue – within 20 metres of a dormant fracking tower put in place by Argentinian state-controlled oil company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF). It’s set to drill a well in Lof Campo Maripe (LCM) – the land of Albino’s community – in the Neuquen province, west Argentina.
The tower is dormant partly thanks to Albino’s sisters, who halted the drilling by locking themselves on to machinery in October 2014. They were demanding their community’s right to prior, informed consent after YPF signed a contract with Chevron to extract shale gas on LCM’s lands without consulting the community.
LCM has the misfortune of lying above Vaca Muerta, the world’s second- largest deposit of fossil fuels (namely shale gas). Argentina’s rightwing President, Mauricio Macri, has offered a variety of subsidies for transnational companies wanting to drill there. These incentives – from a mere seven per cent import tax on drilling equipment, to a union agreement (between the national government, provincial government, oil companies and oil workers’ unions) that cuts oil workers’ pay – have attracted a star cast of transnationals. Exxon, Total, Shell and BP are just some who have expressed interest in Vaca Muerta’s spoils.
Despite the odds stacked against them, the LCM people – one of 37 Mapuche communities affected by drilling operations on Vaca Muerta – are determined to continue protecting their land and water.
Some 50 municipalities in Argentina have passed local decrees banning fracking on their lands. A farmer from one such municipality stated: ‘Water is vital to our life… This is why we passed the ban: to care for our community, and the others who live downstream.’