If we want to cool the planet, fracking must be banned

Extraction of hydrocarbons in Oklahoma

Extraction of hydrocarbons in Oklahoma, where recent earthquakes have drawn attention to the fracking industry and its controversial methods. Credit: Public Herald/Creative Commons.


Statement from the Latin American Alliance On Fracking at COP21:

The goal of the 21st Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is to reach an effective agreement that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level consistent with both the rights and opportunities of present and future generations, and the conservation of the environment. This requires national policies and actions consistent with international commitments on climate change and human rights, and which respect the Sustainable Development Goals. Fracking to extract unconventional hydrocarbons is contrary to all of the above commitments, and will actually increase the impacts of climate change – which is why the controversial practice must be banned.

During the cycle of extracting, processing, storing, transferring and distributing unconventional hydrocarbons, methane gas – 87 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as an agent of global warming – is released in the atmosphere. The release of methane contributes to global warming at a time when we should be taking any measures necessary to stop it: “within a period of 20 years, the footprint of natural gas released from shale deposits is worse than that of carbon or oil.”[1]

If we continue with the concept of development based on the exploitation of fossil fuels, without first taking into account the rights and needs of communities, it will be impossible to conserve a planet that upholds the well being of present and future generations. The unconventional hydrocarbons extracted from the earth by fracking should not be considered transition or clean energies, since both greenhouse gas emissions, and the risks and damages posed to the environment and public health, are very high.[2]

Fracking in Latin America

We believe that the experience of fracking in Latin America should stimulate global discussion. Despite the particularities with which fracking has advanced on the continent, many similarities have emerged between cases in Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.

Fracking is advancing blindly in Latin America. The basic human rights of affected communities are being ignored, including: the right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent; the right to participation and social control; and the right to information.[3] Governments of the region have failed to apply the precautionary principle, which should be applied considering the serious risks fracking creates for the health of people and the environment, and the uncertainty surrounding the scope and extent of damage it can cause. National laws have been modified based on corporate demands to open the door to the exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbons through fracking. The Mexican energy reform (2013) and the new law on hydrocarbons in Argentina (2014) are clear examples of this.

Fracking in the region has developed without any comprehensive, long-term studies on the risks and damages it causes to the health of people and the environment. With the exception of Mexico, the countries of the region lack their own studies of unconventional hydrocarbon reserves that could verify the figures estimated by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Across the continent, fracking has advanced on indigenous and rural communities, urban neighborhoods and even Natural Protected Areas. It has resulted in the displacement of people and productive activities such a livestock and agriculture, whose coexistence with the technique is impossible.[4] In parallel, complaints and damages have multiplied in response to fires, spills, and explosions; the toxic pollution of water, air and soil; the loss of radioactive substances into wells; and the mismanagement of water.[5]

Throughout Latin America, the rejection of fracking has grown. Proof lies in the national and international networks of opposition; the more than 50 communities and municipalities that have banned fracking within their territories in Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and Uruguay;[6] and the suspension of fracking operations through judicial actions in Brazil and Argentina.

States should make commitments against fracking

In the framework of the Paris Climate Talks, we urge Member States of the Convention to:

  • Sign a binding agreement that efficiently and effectively reduces greenhouse gases to levels compatible with the rights and opportunities of present and future generations, and conservation of the environment.
  • Apply the precautionary principle as a legal and ethical imperative of action to address high-risk situations in a context of scientific uncertainty, in this case banning fracking in countries where it has been initiated or interest in it shown.
  • Conduct objective and independent scientific studies about the risks and impacts of fracking on health, the environment and productive processes, with a long-term goal of ensuring the rights of present and future generations. Where impacts have been confirmed, States should guarantee that companies take responsibility for the damages done and, primarily, for the restoration of the affected environment, even in cases where their contract has ended.
  • Strengthen a policy of energy diversification and the reduced rationalization of energy consumption, which includes the promotion of renewable energies and discourages the extraction of fossil fuels, consistent with principles and rights related to transparency, participation and free, prior and informed consent.

On behalf of the Latin American Alliance On Fracking, we warn of the risks and severe damage that the exploration and exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbons can cause to the people and environment of our countries. Fracking is an experimental technique and neither governments nor companies should conduct experiments at such a high risk to the life and health of people and the environment. 

[1] Food and Water Watch, “The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking,” February 2015, http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/sites/default/files/urgent_case_for_ban_on_fracking.pdf and Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea, “Should fracking stop?” in: Nature, September 15, 2011, vol. 477, p. 272. http://www2.cce.cornell.edu/naturalgasdev/documents/pdfs/howarth%20nature.pdf

[2] Robert Howarth “A bridge to nowhere: methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas,” April 2014, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ese3.35/pdf

[3]Alianza Latinoamericana frente al Fracking, “Avance ciego del fracking en América Latina” (infographic), September 2015, http://www.opsur.org.ar/blog/2015/09/04/mapa-del-fracking-en-america-latina-2/

[4] OPSur “Alto Valle Perforado” (Ed. Jinete Insomne, 2015)

[5] Pablo Bertinat et al; “20 Mitos y Realidades del Fracking,” 2014, http://www.rosalux.org.ec/attachments/article/819/20_Mitos_LIBRO_FRL_PRINT.pdf

[6] Alianza Latinoamericana frente al Fracking, “Avance ciego del fracking en América Latina” (infographic), September 2015, http://www.opsur.org.ar/blog/2015/09/04/mapa-del-fracking-en-america-latina-2/