Stopping territorial expansion of social and environmental high impact industries, such as mining and oil extraction.

The project “Open pit mining and conventional and unconventional hydrocarbon extraction: public policies watch and local communities support” aims to continue the work of creating awareness and grassroots organizational education in pacific resistance and public agenda impact to stop territorial expansion of social and environmental high impact industries, such as mining and oil extraction.

Nowadays oil and gas extraction is operational in ten provinces, and the other thirteen (in fact, the whole country except Buenos Aires) are in some stage of development – technical assessment, legal reforms and exploratory projects – for installation mining industry. If these projects have economic viability the hydrocarbon frontier could extend to the whole country and, at the same time, offshore areas.

Where the new areas for exploration occur, oil-wells are imposed, destroying native forest and violating human and indigenous rights. Where the industry has long-term operations, several studies confirm water, soil and air pollution, impacts on human health, evictions and criminalization of social protesters, and more. The situation is bound to get worse as Argentina has the third largets global reserves of unconventional hydrocarbons, which it is already extracting, using the hazardous technique known as hydraulic fracture – ‘fracking’. See Observatorio Petrolero Sur.

Open pit mining is one of the most devastating ways of minerals extraction –gold, silver and copper principally – as it carries heavy environmental, social and cultural impacts. The keystone of the business is the exportation of minerals, as commodities. Nowadays ten open pit mines are already extracting and over 400 projects, in different stages, are being proposed in 12 provinces, with impacts over the rest of the country. To this expansion we include the exploration of lithium in Indigenous lands. Over 85% of global reserves are in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina (Jujuy, Salta and Catamarca salt pans). Forty transnational companies are exploring in the territory of 80 communities in Salta and Jujuy, without regarding the environmental and social impacts. 

With this situation, and taking into account the objectives proposed, CEPPAS will carry out thematic publications, digital bulletins, campaigns and local workshops for technical and legal assistance. The regions of the country that will be addressed are Patagonia, Northwest and Andean; in coordination with collectives, social organizations and nongovernmental organizations. The horizon of our work is to promote the debate, by local organization and awareness, of what development is currently taking place and which one does our country and people need taking into account the transformation of social, cultural and environmental axis. 

Brief Project Update: July 2012

Our work agenda had an important shift due to a major public policy over energy. The nationalization of YPF – the most important company in the sector – took energy to the front page of public debate as it had not been seen in a long time; energy is once again a political issue, which is great news for us. After four years of hard work in the ‘dark’, with scarce attention from mass media we were summoned for our opinion in articles and activities. It has been very intense and we are proud that we finally are a reference in the matter, even though, nowadays political debate around energy is principally focused on economic achievements – in equations of oil and gas costs and benefits – and that is far from what we would desire. In Argentina climate change or local impacts of hydrocarbon and mining industry are rarely taken into account. Especially the first, since the social resistance to open pit mining has had important victories in the last months.

Since our approach is based in environmental, cultural and social axis we provide a wider scope to debate over energy. It must be considered as a citizen right, for present and future generations, in a holistic approach. In order to fulfil this objective, our communicational strategy aims at grassroots social organizations and public decision makers to shift public policies and promote local empowerment.

The funds were used to carry on the strategic axis of OPSur:

a)    Energetic Sovereignty: a paradigm for the transformation of civilization

Nationalization of YPF

In January the national government made the first announcement against Repsol due to YPF’s bad management. The issue made the newspapers with every political group making statements and energy and hydrocarbons became part of national debate. In April the state finally nationalized 51% of the company and part of the industry is public once again.

We made two public statements: in February and April. In both we introduced the environmental, cultural and social issues (including the collective rights of indigenous and creole communities) in the debate. The experience of four years of work and socialization of information allowed us to be ‘heard’ and also be summoned for activities. We were interviewed by 27 radio stations (national and provincial, one from Spain), one international TV station (Al-Jazeera, even though it was finally not televised), and wrote articles for newspapers (national: Tiempo Argentino, Página/12; international: Periódico Diagonal). We also were invited to activities in La Plata city and Buenos Aires city in local Universities.

The strategy that YPF will carry on also reinforces that the debate had only one point of view: development of unconventional basins. Governmental strategy promises to increase levels of extraction and reservoirs without questioning the energetic matrix as such. With this point of view we highlighted the use of benefits, where they would be executed and for what; and if it was possible to start a transition to a more social and ecological sustainable energetic matrix.

b)    Support of communities and organizations: creating awareness of human rights violations and impacts over nature throughout local workshops and communication.

Campaign against the exploitation of unconventional basins

Exploitation of unconventional basins is seen as the industry’s new primary objective to increase revenue and also solve the regular energy deficits the country is facing, where fuel imports have been increasing year after year. These types of basins are widely spread in our country and according to a research, we have the third largest global reserve. The hydrocarbon frontier has been expanding in the last years and, with the exception of Buenos Aires city, all provinces have made some modifications to receive the industry or directly bid for areas of exploration. The hydrocarbon industry is seen as a dynamic stimulus  tolocal economies, creating jobs and promoting wealth. So it’s vital to promote an alternative vision to this perceived ‘panacea’.

OPSur produced a series of reports aimed at the environmental and social consequences of the hydrocarbon industry, evaluating the situation in the country, the history of poverty and exclusion due to the exploitation of hydrocarbon industry; plus an interview with a Mapuce leader of Neuquén and the cases of resistance in the UK and France. These were published in a magazine called ‘Fractura Expuesta: yacimientos no convencionales en Argentina’ [Exposed fracture: unconventional basins in Argentina]. Seven hundred issues were printed and handed out to grassroots organizations throughout the country (Buenos Aires, Neuquén, Río Negro, Entre Ríos, Corrientes, Chaco and Chubut); it is also available for download.

Besides the journal ‘Fractura Expuesta’ we published three articles related to the matter in this period of time: in the Spanish newspaper Diagonal, in the local newspaper Andén and for Oilwatch network.

Two OPSur members travelled to Neuquén province in March of 2012 for 10 days to continue the work with indigenous and creole organizations affected by hydrocarbon industry, and to make public presentations. In Zapala city we dictated a brief of unconventional hydrocarbons, with details of the impacts and consequences. The ‘Local Popular Assembly of Zapala’ has been a key actor in order to defend the aquifer, were water runs directly from the Andes, from previous oil and gas drilling and water selling. Their resistance has had the political response of trials to their leaders and indenisation claims by the local government. We also made interviews in local radios. This meeting was the moment to promote more common work: they organized the presentation of our book –‘Zonas de Sacrificio’ [Regions of Sacrifice] in May 2012.

In the Mapuce community Gelay Ko, fifty kilometres away from Zapala, oil and gas industry has been extracting hydrocarbons for over 40 years. We visited the community, also some of their leaders where present in Zapala, and we took photographs and testimonies for a report of the situation – which will be published soon. Their traditional territory has been heavily industrialized and their culture and economy have suffered. They experience deterioration of water and ground pollution, as well as health issues that they relate to the chronic ingestion of hydrocarbons present in water and air. This situation has been increasingly getting worse in their territory: by the end of 2011 Apache Company drilled the first well in South America using hydraulic fracturing. More wells are proposed for the near future as the community resists its development. To contextualize; in June a pacific resistance to the entry of drilling equipment was suppressed by local police; women, children and elders were beaten and two members were sent to jail. OPSur will maintain the support to Gelay Ko. Our meeting in March has been important as well as to define a workshop.

In Neuquén city we had a rally of meetings, in order to expand our network and create awareness around unconventional basins. These included labour unions (CTA, one of the strongest unions which has been fighting for the nationalization of oil and gas, we are trying to influence in their strategy to include environmental, cultural and social point of views and the necessity of a transition), political parties (four different parties with representatives in the provincial parliament – surprisingly two of them had no idea of the subject – and one currently without representatives), social organizations (like the Forum for Environment and unemployed organizations – born in the 2001’s crisis – that are now worker cooperatives), the catholic church (Neuquén’s bishop is strongly against hydraulic fracturing, an important actor to influence in local politics) and media (alternative and mass-media). A meeting was held, organized by local groups, to create a platform around energy, public policies and collective rights. It was proposed that the first activity would be the public presentation of our book, which finally took place in May 2012. The platform has a diversity of origins: Mapuce communities, church, social organizations and unions. 

‘Zonas de Sacrificio’ – a new book on the impacts of the hydrocarbon industry

The book addresses the impacts and consequences of oil and gas industry in indigenous and creole communities in north Patagonia and Salta province. It resumes OPSur’s work done in its four years of existence and has a considerable amount of interviews and first-hand knowledge of the territories. It makes special emphasis in the massive biding of areas for exploration, the current situation of the communities living ‘besides the well’ and the constant imperceptibility of these communities and its lives in the planning of public policies. In this period of time we worked on final edition and preparation to its launch in May.

The book is a ‘political tool’; it is destined for the communities in resistance as a way of making their situation perceptible, to create a political issue around oil and gas. For the print, it had the support of América Libre Publisher. Twenty per cent (of a 1,000 published) were destined to grassroots organizations and political work with new organizations.


a)    Strategic lawsuits: creating jurisprudence and boosting local organization

Salinas Grandes communities, defense of traditional territory against lithium companies

We are supporting Salinas Grandes Kichwa communities in their defense of collective indigenous rights against lithium companies; currently exploring in their territories. The communities are stating that due to biddings in Salta and Jujuy province, their right for prior consultation has been violated, a common issue in the expansion of extractive industries in the region.

RedAJ has been supporting the lawsuit in the National Court of Justice and their process of organization. Therefore, a member has participated in the majority of meetings held in Jujuy province to elaborate and discuss the strategy. With the presidents of the communities we’ve coordinated the production and publishing of “Declaración de los pueblos originarios de las Salinas Grandes y Laguna de Guayatayoc sobre nuestro derecho a la Consulta del 169 de la OIT – Historia de lucha contra las megamineras de litio en la Puna Jujeña y Salteña” [Indigenous people of Salinas Grandes and Guayatayoc Lagoon declaration about our right for prior consultation – History of struggle against lithium mining companies in Salta’s and Jujuy’s Puna].


b)    Human rights and the right of opposition

Campaign against the anti-terrorist law

Argentina signed in December a new anti-terrorist law. We coordinated and boosted a campaign against the sanction of this law. We held advocacy meetings with political representatives and human rights organizations. A virtual campaign was coordinated with ALDEAH, French organization. In February, we held a meeting of North-west Redaj’s lawyers to analyze the first implementation of this law towards organizations opposing open pit mining. The meeting focused in legal strategically analysis of the situation, legal assistance and the coordination of actions in provinces with the worst scenarios.

This situation, even though it was aggravated by the sanction of anti-terrorist law, is of continuous attack to activists. In January, February, March and April there was an intense response from public organisms to social protest. From RedAJ we gave legal support to local organizations.


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