Vaca Muerta

Location:

Northern Patagonia, Argentina

Project risks:

Environmental Destruction, Litigation, Social Harm

Companies:

  • YPF SA
  • Tecpetrol Internacional SLU
  • Pampa Energia SA
  • Pluspetrol Resources Corporation BV
  • Chevron Corporation
  • TotalEnergies SE
  • Vista Energy SAB de CV
  • BP plc
  • Wintershall Dea AG
  • Shell plc
  • Energy Operations Argentina LLC
  • Exxon Mobil Corporation
  • Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas)
  • CNOOC Ltd
  • Bridas Energy Holdings Ltd
  • Gas y Petroleo del Neuquen SA
  • Petroleo Brasileiro SA – Petrobras
  • The Dow Chemical Company
  • QatarEnergy
  • Equinor ASA
  • Compania General de Combustibles SA (CGC)
  • GeoPark Ltd
  • Molecular Energies PLC

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approximate location

Oil and gas companies are wrecking the region of Northern Patagonia in Argentina for the gigantic Vaca Muerta fracking project. More than 25 companies are turning the region into a sacrifice zone the size of Belgium.14685 The resources they extract in Vaca Muerta add up to 39% of Argentina’s annual oil production and 52% of annual gas production in 2021.1468714689 With more than 1,700 drilling sites, the companies are destroying the environment, poisoning the people and fueling the climate crisis.14691

The oil and gas companies set up new wells almost on a daily basis. The wells fragment the landscape in Vaca Muerta. Only in April 2022, 20 new gas wells started production.14693 For the expansion-hungry fracking companies, an exciting gift in the form of new infrastructure is coming up. The state-owned energy company Integración Energética Argentina SA (IEASA) wants to build a pipeline to further boost gas production.14695 YPF, another state-owned company, is planning to build an LNG terminal. Moreover, an expansion project of the North Patagonian railway corridor is underway. It will enable oil and gas companies to transport their products to Bahía Blanca, one of Argentina’s most important ports.14697 This infrastructure would help export Vaca Muerta gas to Europe and boost gas production further.14699

The Vaca Muerta megaproject stretches thousands of miles across Northern Patagonia. The destruction is so enormous, we can see it from space. Credit: Martín Álvarez Mullally, OPSur

Fracking is a dirty and dangerous technique to extract oil and gas. It is banned in many countries, such as Uruguay, France, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Ireland and Denmark.14701 Fracking can cause earthquakes, contaminate ground and surface water and poison humans. Fossil fuel companies pump pressurized water, toxic chemicals and sand into the underground rock to release oil and gas. Together with the desired fossil fuels, they bring some of the toxic mixture up to the surface again. This waste contains heavy metals and radioactive liquids. In Vaca Muerta, the companies are illegally dumping this hazardous brew into unprotected open holes.14703 This oily waste is piling up only a few hundred meters away from people’s homes.14705

Fracking operations in Vaca Muerta makes people ill. Fracking chemicals are poisoning people’s drinking water, farmland and harvest. People are suffocating from the persistent smell of oil and gas in the air. It sticks to their noses and dries up their throats. They are suffering chronic health issues such as cancer, asthma and skin diseases.14707 At the same time, fracking causes earthquakes that rattle and crack people’s houses. The people live in constant fear of the next earthquake. Every earthquake threatens to destroy their homes, belongings and health. Before the oil and gas companies started their fracking activities, the people of Vaca Muerta could walk on stable ground. This is no longer the case.14709 In the course of only 3 weeks in April and May 2022, 35 earthquakes hit the region.14711

The Vaca Muerta megaproject brings Northern Patagonian cities close to collapse. Masses of workers are moving to the area. Cities like Añelo are growing chaotically. Within the last decade, its population has tripled.14713 Housing and food prices are exploding in Vaca Muerta’s nearby cities.14715 Even the oil and gas workers are struggling to pay their bills by now. In February 2022, the union representing 24,000 workers went on strike to demand higher wages.14717 More and more people have to move into the poor slums on the outskirts of cities. The health and school systems are completely overloaded. Teachers and doctors have to commute from neighboring towns because they cannot afford the rent.14719

The indigenous Mapuche people are suffering most from the dirty megaproject. They have been living in Northern Patagonia for centuries. Now, fossil fuel companies are drilling wells on the Mapuche’s traditional land without their consent.14721 They are invading the indigenous community’s homeland with wells, pipelines, heavy machinery, access roads and truck traffic.1472314725

But the Mapuche people are fighting back. First, in 2014, they blocked roads to drilling sites for 2 weeks, then for 48 days and then again for 48 days.14725 With their bodies, they brought Vaca Muerta’s fracking wells to a halt. Together with the NGO FARN and local citizens, the Wirkaleo Mapuche community is suing the province Neuquén in Northern Patagonia and the National State. The case has reached Argentina’ supreme court, which remains silent.14727 The Wirkaleo Mapuche want the province to halt all fracking activities until it can guarantee that fracking no longer causes earthquakes in the region.14729

The Mapuche are not alone with their resistance. More and more people are coming together in grassroots initiatives across Northern Patagonia. The Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, a local Catholic Bishop, farmers, doctors, teachers and politicians are speaking up against the destruction of the region. Even the United Nations has urged Argentina to stop the gigantic fracking project.14731

Fossil fuel companies like BP, Petrobras, Equinor, Sinopec and Shell have endless expansion plans. Financial institutions need to stop them now, before they turn Northern Patagonia into a completely unlivable and poisonous desert.14733

Rosa Sandoval lives in Sauzal Bonito, a village next door to the fracking megaproject. She is pointing to the cracks in her home that the earthquakes leave behind. Credit: Martín Álvarez Mullally, OPSur 
The people who live near to Vaca Muerta are repeatedly protesting against the megaproject. Credit: Multisectorial contra el Fracking de Neuquén

Groups working on Vaca Muerta: Observatorio Petroleo Sur (OPSUR), Enlace por la Justicia Energética y Socioambiental (EJES), Taller Ecologista, Oilwatch LatinoAmerica, Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN), Periodistas por el Planeta, Asociación Argentina de Abogados Ambientalistas, EcoLeaks

Further Reading:

https://www.urgewald.org/sites/default/files/media-files/FiveYearsLostReport.pdf
https://opsur.org.ar/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/2019-Fractura-Expuesta-6.pdf
https://opsur.org.ar/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/ExportarVM3_baja.pdf
https://farn.org.ar/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/DOC_SUBSIDIOS_2019-2020_FINAL_INGLES_links.pdf
https://farn.org.ar/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/FARN_Vaca-muerta-es-parte-de-la-solucion-v2.pdf
https://farn.org.ar/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/FARN_Infraestructura-en-Vaca-Muerta_Pieza-clave-en-su-explotacion_2020-05.pdf
https://periodistasporelplaneta.com/blog/vaca-muerta/
https://www.banktrack.org/project/vaca_muerta/pdf
https://farn.org.ar/iafonline2019/articulos/vaca-muerta-entre-el-desastre-socioambiental-y-los-argumentos-ecologistas/  
https://www.ejes.org.ar/boletines/img/Ejes-Accidentes-incidentespetrolerosenlacuencaNeuquina.pdf
https://350.org/some-answers-and-a-lot-of-questions-about-the-fire-in-vaca-muerta-argentina/
https://www.boell.de/sites/default/files/2020-01/Web_Perspectivas_Lateinamerika_2019_II-komprimiert.pdf
https://www.greenpeace.ch/de/hintergrund/45644/wir-haben-noch-fuenf-bis-zehn-jahre/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXBmUiBZX70
https://farn.org.ar/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/DOC_IMPACTOS-VACA-MUERTA_links.pdf

https://350.org/press-release/worlds-second-largest-shale-gas-reserve-is-an-economic-bomb-shows-new-350-org-report/

Sources:

We list the the GOGEL companies involved in upstream activities in Vaca Muerta
https://www.argentina.gob.ar/noticias/en-la-argentina-el-nivel-de-produccion-de…
https://www.spglobal.com/commodityinsights/en/market-insights/blogs/oil/041222-…
https://www.telam.com.ar/notas/202201/581352-perforacion-pozos-vaca-muerta-petr…
https://www.rystadenergy.com/clients/articles/shale/2022/argentina-vacamuerta-u…
https://gpnk.energia-argentina.com.ar/
https://www.argentina.gob.ar/noticias/se-aprobo-el-proyecto-de-rehabilitacion-d…
https://www.spglobal.com/commodityinsights/en/market-insights/latest-news/natur…