Fracking prohibited in New York, but promoted in Colombia | Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) Skip to content Skip to navigation

Fracking prohibited in New York, but promoted in Colombia

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is an unconventional form of extracting oil and gas. The technique requires drilling first vertically and then horizontally, and injecting a high-pressure mix of water, sand, and toxic chemicals. The injection fractures subsurface layers of shale, releasing the oil and gas contained within.

Fracking has severe impacts on both the environment and human health: it contaminates surface and ground water sources, causes earthquakes and air pollution, and releases greenhouse gases, among other things.

These effects have been documented in studies by the German Ministry of Environment, the US Government Accountability Office, the Canadian Council of Academies, and Anthony Ingraffea, a professor at Cornell University.

On December 17, 2014 the Governor of New York announced the prohibition of fracking in the State because of the "significant health risks" posed by the practice.This argument stems from a two-year study conducted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which analyzed the impacts of fracking on human health and on air and water quality in communities throughout the state.

The decision has been celebrated by environmental advocates and criticized by some investors who claim that it is denying the State economic benefits from the extractive industry.

The debate over whether or not to permit fracking has been going on in other latitudes as well. In France, fracking was banned in 2011 by national law. After an oil company sued the government, the Constitutional Court upheld the ban in 2013. Bulgaria banned fracking in 2012, and Germany maintains a moratorium on the technique. Bans or moratoriums have also been issued by municipalities in the United States, Canada, Spain, Argentina, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Australia.

Despite this international precedent, the Colombian government has promoted fracking.

In 2008, the National Hydrocarbons Agency issued a study to identify the potential in unconventional hydrocarbons in the country. In 2012, the National Environmental Licensing Authority authorized a hydraulic fracturing project in Boyacá.

That year, the Comptroller General of the Republic issued just one warning recommending that companies "take into account the precautionary principle regarding the latent risk hydraulic fracturing poses to environmental heritage through the possible contamination of groundwater and surface water sources, geological risk, and the risk to public health and nearby urban centers."  

In January 2015, in a special performance-monitoring warning, the Comptroller found that the State had not adopted the necessary measures.

By the end of 2012, the Colombian government began creating a regulatory framework for fracking in Colombia. They contracted international experts to regulate and identify the impacts of the technique. An investigation by independent news site La Silla Vacía has found that several of these experts are linked to the oil industry.

The Ministry of Mines and the National Hydrocarbons Agency then issued legal instruments that would serve as the framework for the start of fracking in the country.

Francisco José Lloreda, president of the Colombian Petroleum Association, publicly stated that without fracking “we would have a fiscal catastrophe” within six or seven years. And the Minister of Mines, Tomás González, said that fracking is needed to finance the country’s peace process.

Even before fracking began in Colombia, various sectors issued warnings. In August 2014, AIDA publicly urged (in Spanish) the government to apply the precautionary principle and prevent the serious and irreversible consequences of fracking. Later, in September, the National Environmental Forum and other organizations requested a conditional moratorium on fracking in Colombia.

Additionally, Housing Minister Luis Felipe Henao voiced concern about the effect fracking would have on the water supply. He said, "To me, as Minister of Water, fracking scares me.… When you see what is happening in Santa Marta, you realize that one can invest a lot in pipes, but if you don’t have clean water supplies, you won’t do much more than carry air through them."

From all these arguments, the obvious question arises: Why is fracking – which has been prohibited or restricted in various countries and municipalities – being promoted by the Colombian government?

The most apparent response is that it will increase extraction of hydrocarbons and, as a consequence, the revenues of government and private industry. What government and industry do not see is that no amount of revenue is great enough to offset the social and environmental impacts of fracking, or of the possible new conflicts that may arise because of its effects on water resources. 

We have seen nationally (Guajira and Arauca) and internationally (Los Angeles and San Paulo) that without drinkable water, a successful economy,and even life itself are not feasible.

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