Extractives industries: Dirty and thirsty technologies

Nathalie Seguin, Freshwater Action Network-Mexico

The extractive model of economic growth is a huge burden on the planet, and one which Latin America has been a victim of for many years. Capitalist consumption patterns demand huge quantities of energy, forcing governments to race for more energy sources at whatever cost. Planetary “peak oil” has already been reached, and the cheap oil extraction era is declining. Non-conventional methods of hydrocarbon extraction have become more feasible and widely used, due to the high cost of conventional extraction. This has made countries that historically have not been large producers of oil to aspire to become rich through oil. This makes these countries the next target for large exploitative transnational oil companies.

On a global scale there has been a rush to develop non-conventional hydrocarbons – including natural gas shale by hydraulic fracture, better known as “fracking”. But this technique is a very water intensive and particularly dirty technology, which heavily impacts overall quality of life, including human health and the environment. Fracking violates many human rights, and the push for this unsustainable production model will lead us to a water and ecological collapse.

Countries are gathering at COP20 to agree on measures to reduce emissions, and reduce the impact that climate change will have on the planet. This is why these kinds of technologies and vision to further push hydrocarbon dependency is no longer acceptable.  We need to diversify our energy sources, and also change our energy consumption patterns. Our vision needs to go beyond the notion of nation states, and understand that we are all living on the same planet.

Countries need to remember that the international community recognises basic human rights.  We need to prioritise a real energy transition and put our best effort in sustainable energies that fully respect human rights.

Mexico for example is going the wrong direction, and its exceptional sun exposure, solar energy and any other cleaner energy sources are neglected. Despite its commitment of achieving 35 per cent sustainable energy by 2024, Mexico has opened its doors through its latest energy reform to this terrible dirty and thirsty technology of fracking, violating the universal human right to water that was recognised in the Constitution in 2012.

Fracking uses between 10 and 30 millions of litres of water for each fracture, potentially making availability of water in those regions very scarce, and violating the most fundamental human right of access to clean, safe water. Additionally, these technologies also pollute the water supply as well. As this huge amount of water is injected with highly toxic products and sands under huge pressure to frack the shale rock, the flow back fluid is full of chemicals, with many of them impossible to clean under any water treatment existing today. This mix is very toxic, and it has already been proven that this liquid has polluted whole aquifers and other water supplies.

“Fracking is an energy transition to renewable” says the Mexican government. How can you say such a thing when you are still extracting gas and oil that produce huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, and when the newest energy reform approved didn’t mention a single word on sustainable energy?