The Observatorio Petrolero Sur [OPSur] (Oil Observatory South) was born in 2008 as an answer from the Centro de Políticas Públicas para el Socialismo [CEPPAS] (Public Policy Centre for Socialism) to the aggressive promotion of fossil fuels industry through public policies in Argentina. It is part of the international south-south network Oilwatch and the Latin-American journal Energía y Equidad (Energy and Equity).
The primary objectives of OPSur are:
- To spread and produce informational tools of the causes and consequences from the energy matrix based in fossil fuels in the current society;
- Create social awareness over territorial conflicts generated by this industry and the resistance strategies of the affected population;
- Support and articulate with local communities in resistance;
- Promote the banning of the hydrocarbon’s frontier territorial expansion;
- Contribute to the research, spreading and implementation of renewable and sustainable alternatives, under the paradigms of energy sovereignty and environmental justice.
Argentina and the hydrocarbon industry
After an unprecedented federalization policy the Argentinean provinces took over the sovereignty over their resources. The ‘90s neoliberal paradigm that gave birth to it has been consolidated in the last years. The pillage for exportation rapidly drained hydrocarbon reservoirs in the whole country, terminating self-sufficiency and forcing to an increasing fossil fuel importation.
Since these latter measures where implemented, most of the provinces have launched an aggressive bidding campaign over hydrocarbon areas for exploration and exploitation. In the meantime other provinces are still in the early stages like modifications over the regulatory framework. As a résumé, all provinces, excepting Buenos Aires city, have reformed their policies towards the industry’s attraction. This expansionist process seems boundless: recent Brazilian offshore discoveries (pre-sal) motivate exploitation projects in the Argentinean Sea, in this case, by the National State. Under the same trend, it can be seen the wide promotion of unconventional basins (shale, tight, heavy and coal-bed methane) as key solution to the energy matrix and also as a potential source of foreign currency through fossil fuel exportation. The technique to extract hydrocarbons in some of these types of formations –fracking- is in global debate, since it is experimental and questionably harmlessness and environmental security; many countries have raised moratoriums or directly banned the practice. The public policies are strengthening the hydrocarbon matrix; as renewable and sustainable alternatives are left aside there are explicit promotions to install the industry in provinces like Entre Ríos and Chaco, which do not have any historical background.
In this context, private ambition has been favored by subsidies, tax benefits and the virtual absence of controls over productions, exportation, environmental damage and local population impacts. This boost is also related with the increasing fiscal and energetic necessities of the provinces and the national state, in a global context where fossil fuels are at their highest price.
The hydrocarbon history of Argentina, over one hundred years, has been mostly centered in Patagonia and the Northwest of the country, where the most important basins are located. It has left an important footprint: population’s health problems; water contamination, soil erosion and biodiversity loss; social consequences, such as the violation of indigenous people and creole rights, evictions of their territories and null participation in the region’s destiny. The majority of these consequences could multiply if the hydrocarbon frontier continues expanding.
We believe that the actual system’s critic not only has to be centered in a necessary hydrocarbon nationalization –taking into account it is a required strategic resource for the wellbeing of the population-, but also aim to the root of the problem: the exploitation of hydrocarbons and the endless energetic thirst as key pillars of a system that has turned humanity and nature as merchandise.
In this sense, fossil fuels are the main force behind the global market. The control of this strategic resource is the source of multiple diplomatic and war conflicts, who find transnational companies and central economies as privileged actors.
Moreover, the undeniable consequences of climate change, and the tight relationship with fossil fuels consumption turn more urgent than ever the transition towards an energetic matrix more humane and environmentally sustainable.
The premise that guides our efforts is the permanent work with organizations and populations in the impacted regions, with the objective of giving greater public awareness throughout communicational and support strategies.
Our axis of work
- Energetic and environmental crisis
We consider that we are in the course of a series of crisis that are articulated and reinforced (alimentary, economic, etc.) giving place for a ‘civilization crisis’. Regarding the specificity of our work, two issues arise: energy, climate and local environment. The first one obeys the global oil production’s halt since 2005, a series of analysts agree that we have reached the peak oil –of the cheap, easy and energetically rich oil- resulting in a drop of the production for the coming years; a similar situation will happen with gas sooner or later. Due to the close relationship between energy and economy new regions are the key: marginal areas, offshore and unconventional basins. All of these would need bigger investments than required in conventional basins, an expansion of the hydrocarbon frontiers, a minor EROI (energy returned on energy invested) and the environmental consequences could be worst, among other issues. At the same time the diversification of the energy matrix is set with gas, large dams, biofuels and, secondary, renewables and energetic efficiency. But, is it really necessary to continue energy production at these rates and perspectives? We consider that prior to characterize the current situation as critical it is necessary to have a real debate, collectively and profound over how and why. To address these issues would have to take into account the second aspect of the civilization crisis that the OPSur works: the climate and environmental crisis. Global strategies to stop climate change have failed over and over; especially with the end of the Kyoto Protocol. As the world inevitably will surpass the 2°C and the barrier of 4°C is seen as critic, the solutions employed –under the paradigm of the green economy- are the double process of financialization of nature and social dispossession.
Regarding this axis, OPSur works on:
1) Analyze and socialize the energetic public policies and their key players;
2) Spread and produce information tools of the causes and consequences from the energy matrix based on hydrocarbons in the current society;
3) Support and articulate with indigenous communities and local settlers in resistance;
4) Document and spread experiences of resistance of communities and local settlers to the hydrocarbon industry;
5) Contribute to the end of the territorial expansion of the hydrocarbon frontier and, especially, to the banning of fracking; towards the creation of territories free of oil.
- Human and collective rights
We understand for collective rights those that have to be guaranteed to affected populations by the hydrocarbon industry. Principally, the issues regarding environmental rights, civic participation and indigenous people; inter and intra generational. We consider that in many cases the state violates human rights on behalf of the hydrocarbon industry: as remediation and environmental liabilities are denied, the extractive activity advances with exploration over other territories, denying fundamental and constitutional rights.
Regarding this axis, OPSur works on:
1) Analyze and spread the environmental and indigenous people public policies;
2) Advocate for the environmental remediation;
3) Support and articulate with indigenous people and local settlers in resistance through the production of tools, materials and workshops.
- Energetic Sovereignty and Environmental Justice
In the framework of a superior alternative to the current situation the OPSur works on the construction of a post-petroleum society; having as concrete axis the promotion of energetic sovereignty and environmental justice. Regarding the first, we understand it as the capacity to collectively launch, manage and produce energy. Energy debate has historically been a technical topic, when the essential issues are its political aspect, dependent in a greater emancipatory proposal. In this sense, to brace energy sovereignty is to deepen the democratization of the society and the state; evaluating participatory public policies as well as the will of the people expressed in their resistances and propositions. This measure does not consummate itself in isolation, but along food and popular sovereignty, among others. The control and destiny of energy does not only take into account rights but also responsibilities and consequences. The short history of fossil fuels has demonstrated serious and profound environmental and social impacts in the market based system, with impacts inter and intra generational. A new energy matrix should assure the widest possible access and control, as well as a profound sustainability towards the future with the minor impact in the preset; therefore, fulfilling the key points of the environmental justice.
Regarding this axis, OPSur works on:
1) Analyze and spread public policies of renewable and sustainable energy;
2) Construct collectively political horizons towards energetic sovereignty and environmental justice;
3) Support and articulate with organizations that work under these paradigms.
Buenos Aires, Argentina