Fracking takes its toll

A gas well by the lake in Vaca Muerta.

Fracking (a technique for increasing the yield of oil and gas wells) has long been controversial. It has been in the news in the UK as a backdrop to their Prime Minister turmoil – banned in 2019, unbanned by Liz Truss, and then re-banned last week by the UK’s latest Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak. Here’s a Guardian summary of the fall, rise and fall of fracking in the UK.

Fracking is controversial elsewhere in the world, blamed for an exponential increase in earthquakes in Oklahoma (US), for example. But it is doing all kinds of other environmental damage, often to lands that indigenous peoples call home.

Here’s a sample story (video explainer here) from the Guardian’s environmental team:

The roar of the burning gas well could be heard almost a mile and a half away, from atop the high plateau where Albino Campo Maripe stood, looking down at the orange flames lapping the earth in the distance.

When he was a child, the 60-year-old Mapuche chief used to ride there bareback. Those days are gone for ever. The once-pristine landscape is now dotted with fracking wells and the white patches of land cleared for even more.

The panoramic view is nonetheless overpowering. Two crystal-blue lakes, whose far shores blend with the horizon, cling to the edge of an arid and wind-buffeted Martian landscape of red sandstone, rugged promontories and wide beaches.

The ancient and spectacular rock formations of Neuquén province in Argentina’s Patagonia region are a paleontologist’s dream, rich with dinosaur fossils. But the image quickly fades to the sight and sound of the fracking well that exploded on 14 September and burned continuously for 24 days, spewing hot gas and other elements into the air from nearly two miles below ground.