Colombia cannot afford to stop fracking, according to state-run oil company Ecopetrol, alarming environmentalists across the country.
“If we take the decision not to use the technology, we are deciding to leave oil in the ground. Can we afford it? My answer is no,” Ecopetrol director Juan Carlos Echeverry told daily El Tiempo on Sunday.
This announcement, although not new, is alarming for environmentalists, and has divided opinion across the country.
Manuel Rodriguez, president of the National Environmental Forum and former Minister of Environment, assured weekly Semana that Colombia does not have adequate conditions for fracking.
“Echeverry said that the country does not have the luxury to not do fracking, but does the country have the luxury to continue destroying the environment?” Rodriguez asked.
Fracking is a technique that allows oil companies to extract oil trapped in shale rock layers at a depth of between 1000m and 3000m underground.
To release the oil it is necessary to inject large amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, in order to fracture the rock.
Environmentalists point out that this process affects underwater aquifers, uses a huge amount of water and also could produce small earthquakes that sooner or later could affect the surface.
The process can also cause both the contamination of ground water and huge greenhouse gas emissions.
Chemicals used to solidify the fissures can seep into the underground water wells while leaking methane from gas wells is “28 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas over the longer term and at least 84 times more potent in the near term,” according to a New York Times report.
Democratic Pole Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo has been one of the main opponents of this mining technique. The congressman said the risks posed fracking are not few.
“The reserves of fresh water are in the aquifers and with this system we run the risk of contaminating them with hydrocarbons,” said Robleado.
A further concern is the large amount of water that is used. In a conventional oil extraction process, 3,000 cubic meters of water per well are needed, while for this method it is 25,000.
“The government is improvising”
For many, the decision to undergo processes of fracking has been taken irresponsibly.
“For us environmentalists, the government is improvising,” Rodriguez asserted.
“In no other way would they approve something that causes so much harm to the environment. Until now I don’t know any study that says that in Colombia fracking can be done,” the Democratic Pole Senator added.
However, Environment Minister Gabriel Vallejo said in an interview with Semana that the activity can be carried out in Colombia in a responsible manner and that the government is not “improvising” with the decision to implement this technique.
For Senator Robledo, the government’s decision to implement fracking is, rather, a desperate solution to the crisis of falling prices in the market.
“The ultimate problem is that this government took a gamble for petrol and neglected agriculture. In this price crisis they make irresponsible decisions,” Robleado told Semana.
“The perspective of Minister Vallejo is embarrassing. He is an expert in customer service, someone that should remember that his clients are not the oil companies, but the Colombian people,” the Senator added.
Ecopetrol estimates that it could be five or six years before the first barrel of oil is extracted by this method.
No estamos preparados para el ‘fracking’ (El Tiempo)