The controversial drilling technique for extracting large amounts of deeply buried natural gas known as “fracking” has irreversibly arrived in Colombia.
With the support of the government and the participation of private industry, hydraulic fracturing, or“fracking” – the shooting of huge amounts of water and chemicals at high pressures to fissure rocks and release trapped natural gas – will be implemented on a greater scale than ever before.
In the Ronda Colombia 2014, the country’s latest round of auctioning off public land to private companies interested in hydrocarbon exploration and extraction, 19 of the 98 bids sold were for the development of fracking sites, according to Colombia’s Semana news magazine.
Facing declining oil production and off-schedule exploration campaigns, Colombia has already seen a steady drop in foreign investment and could very possibly experience a budgetary shortfall in 2015.
The government is therefore keen to develop alternative methods of advancing its hydrocarbon sector, which makes up for more than half of the country’s exports and provides a crucial source of both foreign investment and national income.
Discussing the auctions, the vice-minister of mining and energy described the increased focus on fracking by saying, “We must continue to leverage the hydrocarbon sector for the development of the country.” In March a law was passed to expedite the process for allowing “non-conventional” drilling sites.
Latest data from the US Energy Information Administration shows 56% of natural gas revenue in Colombia was re-injected into oil extraction, signaling a potential for the industry to offset lower foreign oil investment and maintain development of the country’s most valuable export.
Ecopetrol, Colombia’s state-owned oil giant, along with Canadian based Talisman Energy, acquired the country’s two largest natural gas fields from BP in 2010. Almost all the associated profits since have been reinvested into its oil production capabilities.
However, fracking won’t arrive without a fight.
In 2012, the then Environmental Minister Juan Gabriel Uribe warned of the risks associated with fracking and called for serious environmental precautions to be taken if the industry would arrive more heavily to Colombia.
Fracking can 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.
But the Colombian government assures that these environmental damages will not occur as the country develops its fracking industry.
“The technical requirements and procedures for the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons in unconventional reservoirs” law, which all companies in Colombia’s fracking industry will have to comply with, is supposedly based in “the best possible scientific knowledge available,” according to the vice-minister of mining and energy.
The law does include measures such as disclosure of chemicals used and earthquake monitoring, but much of the site development will simply have to meet the government’s “approval,” a vague measure of compliance.
Germany, France, Bulgaria, US, Australia, and the Czech Republic all have either moratoriums or all out bans on fracking because of its potentially negative environmental effects.
In a recent op-ed in Colombia’s El Tiempo, Manuel Rodriguez Becerra, the former environmental minister wrote, “some in Colombia are right in asking for a moratorium in order to clarify their concerns. Obviously, the Santos government, in its urgency to find additional revenues, will not concede nor confront the eventual increase of socio-environmental conflicts with different communities, who, as always, will end up paying the price.”
- El fracking llegó a Colombia (La Semana)
- Peligros del ‘fracking’ o exploración no convencional de hidrocarburos (El Espectador)
- Colombia Overview (US Energy Information Administration)
- Fracking’s Achilles’ Heel (NY Times)
- ‘Fracking’ (El Tiempo)
- Minimas entrega reglamento tecnico para yacamientos no convencionales (Ministry of Mines and Energy)