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.