Emiliano Zapata is a population where the exploitation of petroleum and gas has left a big environmental and social stain. The inhabitants of the area know that their lands and hydric sources are highly praised by the foreign companies to keep on extracting hydrocarbons of the underground; now the threat is that through the hydraulic fracturing or fracking, that has started in the Totonac region of Veracruz. Official reports suggest that around the area and in the state tests of fracking, same as in Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Puebla, Tabasco and Tamaulipas, since 2003, with more than 900 wells. The involved companies were: Pemex, Dowell Schlumberger, BJ Services Company and Halliburton.
Erika Ramírez, @erika_contra, text and photographs/envoy
Emiliano Zapata, Papantla,Veracruz. The smell of tar penetrates the nostrils to remain at once in the nose; the throat itches and gives a slight cough, the tongue salivates, trying to make the uncomfortable sensation in the palate disappear; the ambience is heavy as if the black cream would have fixed also in the sweat of the body; the headache starts to be present. The heat is strenuous, humid, exhausting.
The petrol spill over the Tejones creek covers what still remains visible, small species of fish are recognizable between the bubbles of the thick and toxic liquid. Upon some tubes hangs plastic, similar to big bags they are trying to stop the advance of the spill, without much of a success. The aroma reaches the highway, barely some minutes before reaching the community with the revolutionary name.
This is just one of the issues that face continuously the over 2 thousand inhabitants of this indigenous Totonac settlement, to which progress and development was offered with the presence of Petróleos Mexicanos (Mexican Petroleum, Pemex) over fifty years ago.
Here the installation of petroleum wells invades the producing lands of citrus fruits; there are 66 in the area, belonging to the San Andrés field, along with the other 10 ones in other communities of Veracruz, summing up 372 wells.
No to fracking
The threat of a new exploitation of hydrocarbons falls on the state and region, as official documents reveal that they have been subject to the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), in over 300 wells in the state. Here on the walls of some houses the rejection of this type of extraction is clearly shown; thus there is an image of a colorful Tláloc (Aztec God of rain) a cartel can be read with the sentence “No to fracking!” For the inhabitants here it is clear that with this new technique of exploitation the pollution will increase along with the decay of the life quality.
They are neighbors of the petrol exploitation that runs under their houses and that provoke the burning of gas nearby their homes, the loss of citrus-growing (mainly) and of some forms of food, such as fishing, as well as the judicialisation of social rallies against the presence of Pemex (formerly a parastatal and today a productive enterprise of the State) that now shares the work with the Venezuelan Oleorey.
Dawn at Midnight
The glow of one of the five turbines of gas that are close by of the community alights the dark night. It is close to midnight and before arriving to the settlement you can see a red-orange colored strip on the black night; out of the turbines the excess gas is unpressurized, which Pemex and the Venezuelan oil company won’t distribute.
A few months ago, this burner, located barely at the outskirts of the settlement, had so much pressure that the inhabitants couldn’t even speak with each other. The windows of houses were rumbling, as well as the nerves of some people. Life had become unbearable for over 20 days.
The assortment of health issues have become more intense, hypertension, deafness, skin rashes, stress…recalls Jorge Luis Sánchez Rivera, inhabitant of the settlement, citrus cultivator and dissident to fracking inn his lands.
In the recounting of the damages, the 58-years-old man has harmed skin because of rashes. In an interview to Contralínea, comments that in this community some years ago, the pollution issues produced by Pemex in the water bodies, formerly occupied by their domestic and field tasks.
“Today, in these waters it is impossible to continue to fish, it is not suitable for washing, for [the] domestic work. Neither is it suitable for thirst quenching of the cattle; even in some parts, when we intended to drill a well, petroleum emerges. There are leaks that not even themselves can control, as the spill in the Tejones Creek”, he says.
During the interview he raises the tone of voice and says that he has to talk loudly as he does not hear well (sequels of the noise of the turbines of Pemex) and continues: “There [in the Tejones Creek] we used to fetch water after they had polluted the FrijolilloCreek, where we used to fetch the water that arrives to town with pumping and re-pumping, they polluted this creek and there is no more places where to take some. We had the promise of Pemex to drill a well to bring water to the community, but it turned out to be a false promise: all community is contaminated in its aquifer levels in its congenital waters”.
The attack against the flora and marine fauna (that has been disappearing, as the huevina fish) has also been rising. Don Jorge tells that much of the food of the inhabitants was based on fish. “There was a kind of fish that was called guapote, similar to a carp, and it has ceased to exist. The ducks also left this place. In the creeks there was a specimen similar to an otter that was called water dog [that] is extinct today”.
The resistance in Emiliano Zapata
The pollution, the noise and the threat of a new extraction of hydrocarbons in the area put in alert the inhabitants of Emiliano Zapata. Here live around 2 thousand Totonac indigenous people in some variant of poverty.
Gumercindo González Sánchez, Municipal Agent of Emiliano Zapata, is a dissident to fracking that in the region of Papantla has installed 172 wells, and rejects the pollution that has left Pemex in the area.
Himself along other four inhabitants of the community have been called by the General Attorney’s Office of the (Mexican) Republic, after that the 11th of November 2014 they blocked the passage to the workers and people of the “State’s productive enterprise” (Pemex) and Oleorey to the premises of the Central Compression Station of turbines of San Andrés (the place where the logos of both companies confirm the joint work of both the Mexican as the Venezuelan one).
Thus the noise of the turbine located only 200 meters of the inhabitants was already deafening, insupportable, the suffocating heat and the stress has been on the rise.
They decided to oppose the passage for a weekend to demand that the turbine was shut down, the public servants did not respond, the businessmen neither. The tiredness brought them back to their homes and a few hours later the citation by the federal authorities demanded their presence to respond to charges of damage of foreign property.
Gumercindo managed to get an amparo lawsuit to avoid going to prison, but the activism for the defense of the territory makes him vulnerable before another possible act of judicialisation of his job. He knows about the drilling of wells in Papantla and in Veracruz with the fracking technique, and he also knows that the water in the region is definitely endangered: “If this happens now, what will happen when more companies will arrive?” he questions alarmed.
The fracking in Mexico since 2003
In Mexico there are over 900 hydraulic fracturing wells (fracking), as reveals the investigator Manuel Llano, Master’s Degree in Social Anthropology by the Ibero-American University and author of the internet site of analysis CartoCrítica. Investigation, maps and drones for the civil society.
According to the response by Pemex Exploration and Production in the information request no. 1857500000714 made by the geo-statist to Pemex, Veracruz ranks as the first site of location of wells, where the fracking technique is applied. Veracruz ranks as the first place in the location of wells done, where the fracking technology is being applied, with 349 wells. It is followed in Puebla with 233; Nuevo Leon with 182, Tamaulipas with 100, Coahuila with 47 and Tabasco with 13.
The specific list of the municipalities of Veracruz were this type of activity is being held are: Agua Dulce, Álamo-Temapache, Alvarado, Castillo de Teayo, Chicontepec, Coatzintla, Cosamaloapan, Espinal, Ignacio de la Llave, Ixmatiahuacán, Juan Rodríguez Clara, Papantla, Poza Rica de Hidalgo, Tepetzintla, Tierra Blanca, Tihuatlán y Tlalixcoyan.
However the data delivered by Pemex do not match with the documents of the Secretariat of Energy (Sener) and the National Commission of Hydrocarbons (CNH) and the so-called Project tertiary oil of the Gulf.
In the First Revision and recommendations, the investigator Llano, specifically it mentions that “1,323 wells have been fractured through the hydraulic fractioning [sic] just in this asset and until 2010; i.e., 1,323 wells with fracking only in the paleo-river channel of Chicontepec, located between the states of Veracruz and the north of Puebla, remaining the rest of the region where de facto we know that there has been fracking [activity]”.
This technique consists of “the drilling of vertical wells until reaching the formation that contains gas or petrol. Then series of horizontal drillings are performed in lutite that can extend for several kilometers in many directions. Throughout these horizontal wells the rock is fractured with the injection of a blend of water, sand and chemical substances under high pressure that forces the flux and exit of hydrocarbons out of the pores. But this flux diminishes soon so it is necessary to drill new wells to maintain the production of the fields. That is why the hydraulic fracture leads to occupying vast extensions of the territory”, as he indicates in his site of the organization Mexican Alliance against Fracking (Allianza Mexicana contra el Fracking).
Guillermo Rodríguez Curiel, member of the organization Assembly of Veracruz of Initiatives and Environmental Defense (Lavida), says in an interview that “everybody points out that the most damaged will be the people and the community, but they forget to say that also the vegetal and animal life will be harmed. The current government has enacted as clean the hydroelectric energies such as the hydro-electric energy, the thermos-electric, the fracking and the Eolic energy; it also declares them as of public interest (despite being private activities) and as priority activities; then these three elements conform the plundering of the living creatures that inhabit of this earth”.
The fracking enterprises
Francisco Cravioto, investigator and public policies monitor related with extractive industries of Fundar, Center of Analysis and Investigation, comments in an interview that “unfortunately the people don’t take into account what is happening here, there has not been any consultation in the communities, neither any environmental impact assessment. There are cases where Pemex and the subsidiary enterprises used projects of citizens’ attention to compensate some damage. From their own resources they generated very basic infrastructure such as: the refurbishment of schools, public lightening and paving”.
The member of the representation of the Mexican Alliance against Fracking says this is related with the energy reform, which allowed Pemex the contracting to other companies so that they rebuild other works”. He says.
“We don’t need the fracking we have alternative technologies. There are real threats with this technique; the climate change is one of them. They are coming for the land, the inequality, the marginalization. Unfortunately, there is a lack of political will”, she affirms the specialist on this issue.
According to the delivered listing to the geo-statist Manuel Llano, the enterprises that have instrumented the fracking technique in Mexico are as following: Halliburton, Dowell Schlumberger de México, SA de CV and BJ Services Company Mexicana, SA de CV.
The US-American company “Halliburton Company offers services and products for the energy industry related with petrol and natural gas exploration, development and production […]. The Drilling and Evaluation Segment provides field solutions and the modelling, drilling, evaluation and placement of wells deposit that will allow the clients to effectively model, measure and also optimize their construction activities”, as reports Forbes in its list of the most important enterprises in the world.
That same magazine in its Mexican edition, published in July 2014 that Schlumberger “is awaiting a robust growth of business in Mexico, where it is being considered to enter the area of non-conventional hydrocarbons and to foster its deep water activities, profiting from the advantages of the recent energy reform”. Their institutional information mentions that it is the first drilling company worldwide, with its roots in the region of Alsace, on the Franco-German border.
According to the Fortune review, BJ Services Company “is one of the main service providers of pump pressure used to protect the formation of oil, sump and the surface pipes during the finalization of the drilling; the company also increases the production in the existing wells. BJ Services stimulates the production throughout the acidification, the use of flexible pipes, fracturing [sic] and the sand control”.
Contralínea requested an interview to the manager of Social Development of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Bernardo Bosch, to know about the processes of the negotiation that the State’s productive enterprise is currently brokering with the affected communities. Until the closing of this edition, no positive answer has been received.
Erika Ramírez, @erika_contra, text and photographs/envoy
(Translated by: Axel Plasa)
Contralínea 445 / del 13 al 19 de Julio 2015