Argentina shale-oil drillers don’t say the M-word (Mapuche)

I spent the last couple days hanging around the Shale Oil & Tight Gas 2012 conference in Buenos Aires. While I have heard a lot about environmental protection, tax issues and infrastructure development, I didn’t once hear anyone say the word “Mapuche,” or even “indigenous” for that matter. Here’s what Eurasia Review says about that, as quoted at Unrepresented Peoples and Nations Organization:

…While new techniques of hydrocarbon drilling, such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in new areas are lauded by some as a solution to Argentina’s energy imports, the indigenous communities who live in areas where these resources can be found argue the activity is a threat to their communities.

Members of the Mapuche community say the Argentine government’s aggressive push to increase energy supplies by allowing oil companies to explore in their lands will cause irreversible environmental and social damage…

“There is no doubt that all of the official announcements about these mega-fields are a direct and clear threat to the life and culture of the affected Mapuche communities,” said Jorge Nahuel, a member of the Xawvnko Area Council of the Neuquen Mapuche Confederation.

Last November, members of the Gelay Ko community in Neuquen blocked work on a gas well on their land that US oil company Apache had been drilling, saying that they were not previously consulted of the project….

Mapuche community authority Cristina Lincopán of the village, said the government brings water each month in trucks to the area from Zapala, a city 60 kilometers (38 miles), because the water is so contaminated from the oil industry.

She said that community members are suffering from blindness, skin diseases and diarrhea.

I talked to one old Neuquén hand today at the conference who questioned whether there were any Mapuche communities in the area before oil development began. He said that what indigenous people are there may have arrived in recent years, and said any issue with them is “manageable.”

As you may know, opposition from indigenous groups can slow down natural resource development. I don’t know how these things work in Argentine law, but quite often, the moral right to prior consultation on natural resource development can trump any legal right that a company has to mine rocks, cut trees or pump oil. Pooh-pooing an indigenous community’s concerns by questioning whether the community really exists and has a claim is not a respectful way to start the conversation.

The industry is trying to apply its lessons from North America here in Argentina. Mostly, this means getting ahead of water issues, and trying to prevent pollution before it starts. It’s great to see the industry trying to protect the environment. But they may be applying North American lessons a bit too literally. They need to get ahead of indigenous issues, or the Southern Cone’s most promising energy resource will be just another bunch of rocks.

4 thoughts on “Argentina shale-oil drillers don’t say the M-word (Mapuche)

  1. westslope

    Nice find. This could explain in part the unexplained negative results listed in the Fraser Institute’s 2011 review of the global petroleum industry for Neuquén province of Argentina. I see Mapuché have been going hard at it with Apache Energy.

    Your old Neuquén hand is correct. There are very few Mapuché Indians in Neuquén. Why is that? Disease? I don’t recall the Mapuché Indians being hunted to near extermination as were the Patagonian natives to the south.

    The Israelis use similar kinds of arguments to justify demographically re-engineering ‘communities’ in the West Bank. The displaced people “were not from here”. The community re-engineering enjoys the solid backing of the president of the USA. Thought I would mention that in passing.

    Would be interested to know the exact origin of the drinking water problem in Gelay Ko. A video at this site, shows where Gela Ko is located:

    I could have sworn that the man interviewed in the film comes from Chile, but heck, what do I know? Maybe Mapuché folks in Argentina clip their words for their own peculiar reasons….

    1. sapitosetty Post author

      Yup, he was saying that the communities have come over from Chile. But as you seem to understand, “you’re not from here anyway” doesn’t really cut it when it comes to community relations, whether in Israel or Argentina or wherever.

  2. westslope


    Somebody from Apache Energy, Argentina is supposed to call me back. Hasn’t happened yet.

    Here is my fear with respect to these issues: The left-wing anti-business Argentinians can be very sympathetic to natives. The right-wing pro-buisness Argentinians can be very critical, condescending and dismissive of “Indios”.

    1. sapitosetty Post author

      Great, please keep us posted. Interesting story, though I’m not chasing it just yet. I should have an epic story about Argentina shale coming out in a few weeks; I’ll post a link. The basic story is that this development is looking likely.

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