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Mexico's shale gas reserves and water-stressed regions overlap significantly. (Credit: Friends of the Earth/World Resource Institute/US EIA)

'Thirsty' Global Fracking Industry Puts Water, Environment, Communities at Risk

'The fracking industry needs to be urgently reined in before it's too late for our planet and people across the globe.'

Deirdre Fulton

Multinational oil and gas companies are moving into increasingly vulnerable countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia where the ecosystems, communities, and authorities are even less able to cope with the impacts of fracking and shale gas extraction, according to a new report from Friends of the Earth Europe.

The report, Fracking Frenzy: How the Fracking Industry is Threatening the Planet (pdf), shows how the pursuit of fracking in countries such as Mexico, China, Argentina, and South Africa is likely to exacerbate the climate, environment, social, and human rights problems those countries already face. While much has been written about fracking in the United States and the European Union, this study "seeks to provide a global overview of shale gas development in the rest of the world," its authors note, focusing specifically on 11 countries that are leaders in shale development on their respective continents.

"From Brazil and Mexico to Algeria and South Africa, this thirsty industry is exploiting weak regulation and causing untold environmental and social damage in the pursuit of profit," said Antoine Simon, shale gas campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. "The fracking industry needs to be urgently reined in before it's too late for our planet and people across the globe."

Released as United Nations climate talks open in Peru, the report illustrates the variety of dangers posed by the rapidly expanding fracking industry. In Northwest Africa and Mexico, for example, longstanding water scarcity issues will only be exacerbated by fracking operations that require millions of liters of water per project. In the earthquake-prone Sichuan basin in China, the Karoo basin in South Africa, the Himalayas, or the Sumatran basin in Indonesia, drilling around complex underground geologies raises the prospect of increased seismic activity, higher costs, and "incalculable environmental impacts and risks." In Argentina, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa, drilling activity on or near indigenous lands is already leading to conflicts with local communities.

"The emerging planned expansion of the shale gas industry outside the EU and North America raises serious concerns because of the almost unavoidable environmental, social, and health impacts already seen at existing fracking sites," reads the report. "Given that these problems have proved difficult to avoid in countries with relatively strong regulations to protect the environment, how can this industry be properly monitored in countries where environmental standards are often lower (and sometimes non-existent), and/or where enforcement capacities are frequently limited and where corruption can be an everyday reality?"

Far greater scrutiny of the industry's climate impacts is warranted, the report concludes, "particularly in countries which are already and will be much more directly affected by the consequences of climate change."

Natural gas "is not—and never has been—the clean fuel that the industry has tried to claim," it reads. "In fact it poses an immediate threat to attempts made to fight climate change."

Friends of the Earth is urging the 195 nations gathered in Peru this week to consider these assertions.

"Around the world people and communities are already paying the price of the climate crisis with their livelihoods and lives," said Susann Scherbarth, climate justice and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. "Fracking will only make things worse and has no place in a clean energy future. Europe and other industrialized countries most responsible for the climate crisis need to use the talks in Lima to make genuine commitments to end their reliance on corporate-controlled fossil fuels and embrace clean, citizen energy."


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