By Inés Benítez
"We are people of all kinds, inhabitants of the area, who love our land and want to protect its biodiversity," activist Hipólito Delgado, from the Anti-Fracking Assembly of Las Merindades, a region in the northern province of Burgos, told Tierramérica.
There, the company BNK Spain, a subsidiary of Canada's BNK Petroleum, requested permits to drill 12 exploratory wells and is awaiting the environmental impact assessment required by law.
On May 3, some 4,000 people demonstrated in the Burgos municipality of Medina de Pomar to demand that the government not allow these exploratory surveys and demand the stoppage of similar requests, due to the multiple risks that, they argue, the technique entails for the environment. and the health of the population.
In Spain, there is currently no license for fracking, the English term for which hydrofracturing is also known, to explore or extract shale gas. But there are 70 research permits and 62 exploration applications pending concession, according to data from the Ministry of Industry and Energy.
All are for the exploitation of gas, the fuel on which the development of shale is currently concentrated in this European country.
“Thanks to the population's struggle,” an exploration permit in the northern community of Cantabria was annulled in February 2014, activist Carmen González, from the Cantabria Assembly Against Fracking, told Tierramérica. inhabitants of rural areas of that region.
Detractors of hydraulic fracturing warn of the contamination of aquifers by the use of chemical products, of the danger of methane gas leaking into the atmosphere, with a greenhouse gas capacity 25 percent higher than that of carbon dioxide, and the risk of seismic movements.
"There are more and more negative reports about fracking," geologist Julio Barea, spokesman for Greenpeace Spain, alerted Tierramérica, who assured that in the country there is "absolute social and political rejection" of this technique that "nobody wants."
The Minister of Industry and Energy, José Manuel Martínez Soria, supports the development of hydraulic fracturing "as long as certain conditions and general requirements are met."
Twelve months ago, 20 political parties, including the main opposition, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, signed in parliament a commitment to ban fracking when the government changes, due to "its environmental impact with irreversible consequences."
Only four right-wing and center-right parties, including the ruling Popular Party, promoter of the development of unconventional gas, abstained from signing the pledge.
To extract the gas, a vertical well is drilled down to the shale layers where it is trapped, between 400 and 5,000 meters below the earth's surface.
Once this level is reached, a horizontal well of up to three kilometers is opened and between 10,000 and 30,000 cubic meters of water, sand and chemical compounds are injected at high pressure to break the rock and release the hydrocarbon, which returns together with the additives to the surface where it is separated.
Interested companies minimize the dangers of this technique and highlight the great potential in Spain of shale gas (shale in English), especially in the area of Cantabria, the Basque Country and Castilla y León, where Burgos is located, although there are also permits exploration in other communities.
"Like any activity it carries risks, but technological advances allow them to be minimized," said Daniel Alameda, CEO of Shale Gas Spain, a platform for companies in the sector with exploration permits in the country.
In dialogue with Tierramérica, Alameda assured that the companies "are fully aware that they have to respect the environment."
He defended that it is "technically impossible" that fracking can contaminate aquifers since fracturing occurs at 3,000 meters below the level where they are located and the wells are isolated with a protective barrier of steel and cement.
"It's a hoax that fracking doesn't pollute," activist Samuel Martín-Sosa, international head of Ecologistas en Acción, told Tierramérica.
He recalled that there was already a first sentence against this industry, in the US state of Texas. In it, an oil company was sentenced in 2014 to compensate a family that fell ill due to the proximity to its wells.
Shale Gas Spain also rejects that there is a link between hydrofracture and seismic movements. “We do not produce earthquakes. We have all the tools so that the activity does not pose a threat to citizens or to the companies themselves, ”said Alameda.
In a 2014 document, the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain warned about the possible radioactivity of surrounding waters, contamination of aquifers and the atmosphere, and seismicity as the main concerns posed by fracking.
Martín warned that it is a fact that most of the lawsuits do not go to trial because the companies reach economic agreements and “confidentiality clauses” that prevent those affected by the wells from speaking.
The United States is the world's largest producer of shale hydrocarbons, followed by Argentina. In the European Union, France was the first country in the world to ban hydrofracture, in July 2011, and currently 17 countries exclude its use and Spain and another 10 allow it, with Great Britain at the forefront of its development.
Alameda assured that the shale will create jobs, reduce energy dependence and improve the trade balance.
Spain imports around 80 percent of the energy it consumes, according to data from the 2011-2020 Energy Saving and Efficiency Action Plan. The promoters of the exploitation of unconventional gas estimate that their deposits would allow the country to be self-sufficient for 90 years, although this can only be proven through exploration.
But to reduce this dependence "the way is not gas extraction, we cannot allow ourselves to continue burning hydrocarbons," warned Martín-Sosa, from Ecologistas en Acción.
The environmentalist criticized the "absolute promotion" of shale by the government, when what is required is "a change in the energy model", based on the abandonment of fossil fuels for renewable energies. But these "have more obstacles than ever" from the central power, he assured.
From Shale Gas, on the other hand, they assure that "the oil and gas industry is compatible with renewable energies."
Four of the 17 Spanish autonomous communities approved laws to prohibit fracking in their territories in the 2013-2014 biennium, but the central government introduced changes in the jurisdiction over this development, which allowed the revocation of regional regulations by the country's Constitutional Court .
Martín-Sosa considered that what should be sought is the national ban on hydrofracture and not try to regulate it.