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Our maxim: “understanding before action”
Our purpose is to encourage the knowledge and the debate of issues connected with art and military science. Selection of articles attempts to reflect different opinions. Beyond any ideological ascription. In order to impulse critical thought amongst our readers.

martes, 19 de mayo de 2015

Shalegas: oportunidades y riesgos.

Latin America Weighs Risk and Rewards of Shale Revolution.

By Paul Shortell, May 19, 2015, Briefing 

Latin America faces difficult choices over hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” as the region looks to expand its nascent shale gas and oil industry. To date, the United States and Canada have outpaced their southern neighbors in unconventional energy production. But Latin America, which holds approximately one-fourth of world’s recoverable shale oil and gas reserves, appears poised to reap the benefits of the North American shale revolution in the coming decade. The urgency to start drilling might have eased in the short term, with lower energy prices making shale less competitive outside the United States. In the meantime, delays afforded by the price drop can be put to good use to address pressing issues of oversight and regulation.

Exuberance over shale oil and gas has catalyzed a wave of regulatory reform in the Western Hemisphere, but Latin America still has to catch up to its northern neighbors. Since 2014, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil have updated frameworks for unconventional energy development, while Mexico and Bolivia are expected to establish new rules in the near future. These countries’ leaders must weigh the economic benefits of rapidly developing their resources against local resistance and environmental risks associated with fracking.

The region is well-positioned to responsibly develop its shale resources. Nearly a decade of debate in developed economies has yielded valuable insight about the health and environmental effects of fracking. Best practices identified by North American and European authorities include the disclosure of fracking chemicals, safe wastewater disposal, regular environmental monitoring near project sites and public-engagement programs. Opposition to fracking has also mobilized diverse elements of Latin America’s civil society, ranging from local communities and indigenous groups to environmental organizations and the scientific community. The region’s democratic institutions should facilitate exchange among these varied constituencies, policymakers and industry representatives.

However, a growing need to lure foreign investment in shale threatens to overshadow environmental and local concerns over fracking in Latin America. The region’s major oil and gas producers, contending with chronically low investment and faltering output, are looking to shale development to unlock new energy reserves. But unconventional ventures in Latin America entail higher costs and greater risks than those in the U.S. and Canada. The region largely lacks the domestic technology and human capital to tap shale reserves, while cumbersome legal and regulatory frameworks pose additional obstacles for energy firms. These challenges will be compounded by slowing economic growth and low oil prices, which have prompted companies to trim exploration and production budgets in the short term.

In the current economic climate, governments pursuing more rigorous fracking guidelines risk jeopardizing investor confidence. Colombia has undertaken extensive environmental study and public consultation over shale oil and gas. But the country’s incomplete regulatory framework, already more than two years in the making, threatens to further complicate its already bureaucratic environmental licensing process. And while President Juan Manuel Santos’ government approved rules for shale exploration last year, guidelines for production remain undefined. As a result, Exxon, Shell and other energy firms have deferred exploration plans in the country.

In contrast, shale-rich Argentina has led the region in unconventional energy development to date. The cash-strapped government signed a landmark $1.24 billion deal with Chevron in 2013 to develop its Vaca Muerta oil and gas deposits, hoping to reverse recent trends: Argentina became a net importer of natural gas in 2010 and a net importer of oil in 2012. Yet regulations have not developed in tandem with the country’s development plans. Environmental provisions were notably absent from an energy reform bill passed by Argentina’s Congress in 2014, which created more attractive concessions and established preferential financing terms for unconventional oil and gas ventures.

In countries like Argentina, where federal-level regulation remains absent or incomplete, local and state governments have stepped in to fill the gap. For instance, Neuquen province, the epicenter of shale development in the Argentine Patagonia, independently adopted new standards for water use in shale development in 2012, and dozens of small municipalities across Argentina have independently enacted fracking bans. In Brazil, meanwhile, three states issued preliminary injunctions against shale exploration over environmental and safety concerns in conjunction with the country’s Public Ministry.

Some environmental and indigenous groups have also found legal recourse to oppose fracking. In 2014, a Brazilian judge suspended gas exploration licenses granted in Parana state until more rigorous environmental assessments could be completed, prompting Brazilian regulators to release new fracking guidelines. In shale-rich regions such as Argentina’s Chubut province, local indigenous groups have sought injunctions against energy projects based on a lack of legally mandated previous consultation.

But public accountability for unconventional oil and gas plans remains hampered by a lack transparency in several countries. Argentine media reports from 2014 indicated the existence of “secret clauses” in the country’s shale gas deal with Chevron. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s administration more recently inked agreements for shale development with China and Russia, governments frequently scrutinized for their opaque business dealings and poor environmental records. In Bolivia, which President Evo Morales hopes to transform into a regional energy hub, the contents of a much-anticipated new hydrocarbons law remain closely guarded. Reforms are rumored to include ambitious plans for shale exploration.

The comparative experiences of Colombia, Argentina and Brazil carry implications for Mexico, which has the world’s sixth-largest shale gas reserves and is expected to finalize new rules for unconventional energy sources later this year. Energy reforms will transfer most environmental oversight of the energy industry from the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources to a newly formed regulatory agency for energy safety, known as ASEA. But while ASEA will assume responsibility for most aspects of environmental oversight, the National Water Commission retains control of hydraulic drilling permitting. Mexican authorities must address this and other areas of fragmented responsibility in order to mitigate regulatory uncertainty and ensure effective supervision.

Latin America’s unconventional energy resources present significant opportunities for growth and development but require judicious management. Countries finalizing new environmental and safety rules, such as Mexico, must comprehensively address the technical complexities of shale development without compromising efficiency. At the same time, establishing pragmatic and fair policies will require governments to balance economic needs against their democratic obligations.

Paul Shortell is an independent analyst of energy, environment, and geopolitics.

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