ALARM IN THE HUASTECA FACING THE ONSLAUGHT OF FRACKING
By: Hermann Bellinghausen
Slow but relentless, alarm runs through the northern mountains and lowlands of the Huasteca: a threat hovers over the territorial rights of thousands of communities. And, it has a name, although it’s not the only one: “fracking,” or hydraulic fracture, a new and aggressive procedure for extracting gas and oil below and inside of large underground rocks. More than a hundred municipios (counties) in four states are threatened by fracking in phases zero and one of the Secretary of Energy, according to maps from Advanced Resources International of the Huasteca and of Totonacapan, according to what the Mexican Alliance Against Fracking has documented.
There are 49 municipios at imminent risk in Veracruz, 22 in Puebla, 21 in Hidalgo and 18 in San Luis Potosí (SLP): communities and agricultural fields of the Nahua, Tenek, Otomí, Tepehua and Totonaca Peoples. The representative of the Puebla municipio Francisco Z. Mena, one of the first affected by the two “phases,” describes the current arrogant presence of vehicles, machinery and personnel of the Schlumberger and Halliburton corporations. “Several wells already operate. They came offering the stars and they haven’t left anything. We demand that they fix the road that they left unusable; upon protesting, the Puebla government throws public forces at us and incarcerates us.”
As the comuneros and ejido owners see it, conscious of the future that awaits them, this is just the first of the horsemen of the Apocalypse let loose by the Constitutional reforms in energy matters that liberalize in the extreme who will extract hydrocarbons and how they will be extracted in indigenous and campesino territories “on top of any other social or productive consideration,” expresses Óscar Espino, a member of the mentioned alliance in Papantla.
The worries over what’s coming, accumulated on the already large quantity of serious things that are occurring (or even worse, have occurred), begin to appear under the brims of the campesinos’ sombreros. There is a shadow of concern in the faces of the representatives of diverse indigenous and campesino communities of Veracruz, Hidalgo and Puebla, gathered together in a small hotel of crazy architecture and half constructed in Huayacocotla, to discuss the imminence of large-scale hydraulic fracture in their towns and municipios.
The attendees come from Veracruz, Puebla and Hidalgo. They have in common being persons of age, whose lives have already been full, have been ejido or communal authorities, have dealt with governments all their lives, one was a mayor. Their commitment to the territories and rights of the communities is very mature and realistic. Esteban Mayorga, of Los Parajes, has concluded that: “autonomy is very important for being able to dialogue with people.” He says the same thing to his fellow campesinos that he says to the (government) functionaries and to the agents from the transnational corporations. “If there isn’t peace there isn’t anything. But above all, the idea that I carry is of being autonomous; without that they are going to finish us off and with us the forests, water, life that we still take care of.”
Fire in the water
With clarity and vehemence, Francisco Cravioto, from the Fundar organization and a member of the alliance, exposes to the community representatives the noxious effects of hydrocarbon extraction in shale deposits via hydraulic fracture and he illustrates with a United States video in which a housewife, a neighbor to extractions by means of fracture, opens his kitchen faucet and when he puts a match close to the water jet, it catches fire. You might say it’s an effect, but it’s real and proven. And that is only because of the escape of gas that confounds the water, which as Eutimio Mendoza exclaims, “seems like liquor.”
The perforation, Cravioto explains, uses large quantities of water, which contains up to 600 toxic substances, besides freeing heavy subsoil metals and acid substances. Although the extractor corporations assure having procedures to avoid that that waste water does not contaminate the communities’ water sources, it’s very probable that there are leaks in just months. Six years is the average time that extraction lasts on a site. Something frequent now where large-scale fracking is done is that water rises to the surface and floods the fields. “The technology doesn’t even exist for treating that water,” Cravioto maintains.
The Gulf of Mexico region on the whole “is the one that runs the most risk in the country.” After decades of traditional oil extraction, the scarcity and difficulty of getting the hydrocarbons out expands the territories to exploit, with much more aggressive practices against the territories and the inhabitants. According to what Manuel Llano has written (La Jornada del Campo, 86, 11/14), 13 indigenous towns would have their territory compromised, “in first place the Yoko Yinikob or Chontales of Tabasco, with 85 percent of their territory occupied, next the Totonaca with 38 percent, and the Popoluca with 31 percent,” both in Veracruz. That, in the phase zero! In phase one, this year, the Tenek, Nahuas and Totonacas will see 320,000 hectares of their territories occupied.
In his exposition, Cravioto says that the delivery of territories and resources to the transnationals dates at least from 2010, before the recent reforms. But the Chicontepec fossil channel, as a coveted and over-valued area is known that ought to be in oil splendor this year, is punctured. It ought to give off 22 percent of the national production, according to what the federal government and the five corporations to which the contracts were assigned predicted in 2009 (they no longer say “concession,” although it continues being so): Halliburton, Schlumberger, Baker Hughes, Weatherford and Tecpetrol. In agreement with Mauricio González González, also from the Mexican Alliance against Fracking, said “contracts for public works,” are a fiasco, besides being illegal, because it turns out that the “probable” reserves were not proven, barely 5.4 percent of Calderonismo’s initial joyous counts. As of 2012, around 3,000 wells had been perforated, and 2,347 operate.
This calculation error now justifies the application of fracking in Phase One, which offers corporations the extraction of shale gas. In Veracruz an assignation of 900,000 hectares is foreseen, and in Puebla some 90,000, adds González, a member of the Center for Rural Research and Training (Cedicar, its Spanish acronym).
“The institutions protect us less than ever”
Óscar Espino, from Papantla, says that Halliburton and Schlumberger “arrived in Tihuatlán and Papantla 13 years ago, getting ready to take advantage as soon as the changes to the Constitution were made ‘where it was never going to touch,’ as the federal governments promised, until they created new laws and reformed 12 existing laws, in the ‘pact against Mexico.’”  We’re dealing with the greatest threat to indigenous territories and the national soil in more than a century. “The new Constitution does not give rights, it takes them away,” says Espino. Facing the imminent “legal servitude to hydrocarbons,” he proposes to those in attendance: “taking care of ejido and other local authorities, because corrupting them or terrifying them is how they are going to enter, and the institutions protect us less than ever because they are in favor of the corporations, not of us.” The pueblos are “judicially defenseless,” and the only resources that remain are the international instruments signed by the State.
An orange seller from Alamo sums up everything in: “the need for creating a front of the peoples in defense of territory.” As González González of Cedicar expresses, they are facing genocide, because the new circumstances “will make life impossible for the people of those communities,” which constitute “a world, a humanity that will not now be possible without determined indigenous people.” An irreparable damage!
 The Pact against Mexico is a negative reference to the Pact for Mexico, a package of neoliberal structural reforms that included the energy “reform” referred to in the article.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Sunday, March 1, 2015