The Scars of the Land

Vaca Muerta, an area of land the size of Belgium in the south of Argentina, contains one of the most important oil and shale gas reserves on the South American continent. Since 2013, the national oil company, YPF, along with Chevron and Total (among others) exploit these deposits. In February, the sun beats down on the village of Añelo at siesta time. It doesn’t stop 4x4s and trucks of all kinds from crossing the small town at high speed. For want of sufficient housing, the oil companies have set up trailer parks with cable tv and internet. Felipe, 37, works at an oil well as a labourer. He earns the equivalent of 2,500 euros a month and spends half his time living in one of these metal homes. “We work long hours for two weeks, but then we get to go home for the rest of the month. A casino has been set up by the roadside. Friday and Saturday evenings are sometimes animated, fueled by alcohol. Policemen are on guard duty at nightfall in front of the service station, the town’s nerve centre. A few kilometers away, the Mapuche indigenous community of Campo Meripe is under pressure since the oil companies have settled on their land. Albino Campos, the community head, explained between two sips of maté : “they are polluting water tables and stopping us, with their system of fracking, from grazing our animals as we did before.” According to the heads of YPF, there are no leaks as their wells are cemented. Their drills plunge more than 3kms down, then branch out horizontally. Chemicals mixed with sand and several million litres of water are injected under pressure to fracture the rock and recover hydrocarbons. According to ecologists, these wells can cause microearthquakes making the cement crack and chemicals, as well as oil and gas, seep out. After a long legal battle, the Mapuche have won the right to move freely around on the Loma Campana site. Albino regularly travels over this semi-desert landscape to detect any overflow of pollutants. Checho, 28, goes with him and takes photos that he publishes on Facebook to denounce the lack of respect for the environment by the oil companies. Oil waste is spread out over the various storage facilities in the region where environmental companies take over treating it. Everything therefore seems under control. But at the end of October 2014 in Neuquén, at the Inarsa site, a pool that didn’t respect norms, overflowed. Comarsa, who were supposed to plant trees round its storage pools have done nothing. Since the 1950s, the inhabitants of these regions have had to cope with the harmful effects of oil : cancer rates and the levels of heavy metals in blood are well above the average. Fracking (unconventional extraction technique) is experienced as an extra problem or sometimes an economic benefit. At the end of 2014, to attract investors, the president, Cristina Kirchner presented her country as a new Saudi Arabia. This presidential enthusiasm was forgetting the decrease in the price of a barrel of oil on international markets. Shale gas extraction is costly and Argentina risks not managing to redress its energy balance. Produced with

Aerial view of the Vaca Mueta site where an important part of Argentine shale gas and oil reserves are located, near the village of Añelo.

Workers at an unconventional well in the Loma Campana zone, 8kms from Anielo.

In the region of Allen, 30kms from Neuquén, unconventional wells are side by side with apple and pear trees. 57-year old Irene and her family’s house is a few metres from a well. The noise caused by the pump jack mechanism is a nuisance for Irene.

Pablo, an employee of YPF, controls the pressure and depth of an unconventional well near Loma Campana, 8kms from Anielo.

Aerial view of the Vaca Mueta site where an important part of Argentine shale gas and oil reserves are located, near the village of Añelo. In the foreground, unconventional gas and oil wells.

A street in the poor neighbourhood of Valentina Norte Rural, on the outskirts of Neuquén, leads to pump jacks. A large section of the neighbourhood has no running water.

Felipe, sitting on his bed in a container (or trailer) that he shares with other workers. For want of sufficient housing, the oil companies have set up trailer parks with cable tv and internet and a gym.

A recently-built residential neighbourhood in Añelo. In 2 years, Añelo. has gone from 2,500 inhabitants to 6,000.

Signposts written by the companies to show where the various wells are in Loma Campana, 8kms from Añelo., a 8 km d'Anielo.

Albino Campos, Jongko, or head of the clan, part of the Mapuche Campo Maripe community, comes to see his goat kids looked after by a shepherd in the Loma Campana area, not far from the oil and shale gas wells.

In the foreground, Mabel serves a maté (traditional drink), Albino Campos, Jongko, or head of the clan of the Mapuche Campo Maripe community is in the background.

This house, at the entrance to the Mapuche community in Campo Maripe, was overrun with sand following the oil company, YPF clearing the weeds. Work started up again a few days ago, and the sand has been cleared to make land for growing things on.

Checho chats to a Mapuche family at the entrance to the Mapuche community in Campo Maripe. The community is fighting against unconventional wells “which pollute water tables and don’t allow us to graze our animals.”

Neuquén province. Aerial view of an unconventional oil and shale gas well.

A reservoir belonging to Shell on Sierras Blancas between Neuquén and Añelo. This large body of water mixed with chemicals will be injected more than 3kms down to fracture rock and recover gas and oil.

In the area of Valentina Norte Rural, where there are several pump jacks, a large part of the population doesn’t have running water. The council has taken on a subcontracting company who distributes water that is not drinkable for watering and washing. This water is rationed per inhabitant.

The Mapuche community of Campo Maripe breed goats. They are left to graze in the Loma Campana area, not far from the unconventional oil wells.

The company Real Work produces covers containing chicken feathers that allow toxic leaks to be soaked up around the wells. They are then stored on the ground in the open air on a several-hectare plot of land a few kilometres from the town of Cutral Co.

Ariel 41, drinking a mate inside his trailer in the Mapuche community of Campo Maripe. Ariel was engaged by the company YPF petroleum to flatten land in the grounds of the community. In exchange for the right to exploit unconventional wells, YPF has promised the Mapuche community to make cultivable land. But the work has been interompus and Ariel was unemployed and contract debts. He reclames the firm the equivalent of 15,000 euros.

Inside the Mapuche community of Campo Maripe.

At the end of October 2014, near Neuquen, one of the companies authorized by the authorities to reprocess the waste oil (Indarsa) broke one of his ponds, which was not up to standard. The waste flows over 500 meters, near poor neighborhoods. Here, few days later, a worker continues cleaning.

Aerial view of the town of Neuquén, capital of the province of the same name.

lare near Allen, 30kms from Neuquén.