The Argentinian municipality of Vista Alegre is fighting to keep in place a fracking ban on top of some of the biggest tight oil and gas fields in the country.
The municipal council of Vista Alegre banned fracking by a unanimous decision in January. But right after the ban was officially published, the state attorney of the province of Neuquen Raul Gaitán lodged an appeal with the provincial High Court to stop the ban coming into effect.
Earlier this month Vista Alegre residents blocked the local highway to protest this attack, to defend their farms and livelihoods, saying in their statement:
Caring for the river is of great importance for us. Water is vital to our life, and threatened by [fracking]. This is why we passed the ban: to care for our community, and the others who live downstream.
The ban affects two oilfields: firstly, Río Neuquen, where the Argentinian state oil company YPF (with Petrobras and Pampa) have already drilled some conventional wells. According to a statement from Pampa, there is “high potential” for gas drilling in this field. Secondly, the municipality also covers a corner of the Lindero Atravesado gas field, operated by Pan American Energy, a 60% subsidiary of BP.
If Neuquen province successfully overturns the ban, this may mean not only contamination on Vista Alegre’s pear farms, but also bad news for other Argentinian communities that have tried, or will try, to use municipal powers to ban dangerous gas infrastructure.
How Europe promotes fracking in Argentina
Two years ago, the governor of Neuquen Jorge Sapag was invited to dinner with members of the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly (EuroLat) – the “parliamentary arm” of European – Latin American bi-regional collaboration. The topic: a draft EuroLat report on fracking. The discussion was later summarised by another attendee, a Colombian parliamentarian, in the following way:
the chemicals used in fracking can be found on any family dinner table; that fracking is safe; and that fracking would take place in a desert region.
In this way, EuroLat has been promoting the idea that the fruit farms of Vista Alegre are “a desert region” to be fracked – not unlike the infamous “desolate North East” of England according to Lord Howell of Guildford. But EuroLat’s report also attracted opposition from EU parliamentarians as well as movements across Latin America.
What EuroLat lobbied for has now become the official position of the Neuquen provincial government, and Vista Alegre residents are fighting to keep their river and farms safe.