Fracktivists ‘win’ as Brazil shale gas auction flops

Climate campaigners claimed victory after just 37 of 266 hydrocarbon exploration blocks found buyers on Wednesday

Indigenous leaders protested against fracking in their areas (Pic: Eliçabe & Paulo Lima)

Indigenous leaders protested against fracking in their areas (Pic: Eliçabe & Paulo Lima)

By Megan Darby

Anti-fracking campaigners have claimed victory in Brazil after an auction of blocks for oil and gas exploration fell flat on Wednesday.

The government sold rights to only 37 of 266 blocks on offer, raising R$121 million (US$31.4 million), well below official expectations.

International oil majors including ExxonMobil, BP and Shell had registered for the 13th bidding round, but walked away empty-handed.

It was left to 17 smaller companies, mostly Brazilian, to pick up a handful of concessions each.

Brazil’s shale basins hold an estimated 245 trillion cubic feet (6.9 trillion cubic metres) of technically recoverable gas. By comparison, the US figure is 622tcf.

But extracting it is controversial, particularly where that involves disrupting pristine rainforest or impinging on indigenous territories – as the latest offers did.

Fracking or hydraulic fracturing involves pumping water and chemicals at high pressure into shale rock to force oil and gas out.

At the event in Rio de Janeiro, protestors spoke of their concerns about the environmental and health impacts of fracking.

Nine indigenous chiefs attended to register their objections to hydrocarbon extraction in the Amazon rainforest.

“Let nature be happy, so we can also be happy,” shaman Luiz Puyanawa said in a statement.

Members of Nao Fracking Brasil, part of the 350 campaign network, had spent six days in remote indigenous villages of Acre state, mobilising opposition.

Last Saturday, they had “fracktivists” picketing Brazilian embassies in the UK, Portugal and Spain, as well as demonstrating in a number of Brazilian cities.

And buyers from the last auction in 2013 have been unable to start production as opponents are fighting them in the courts.

Nicole Figueiredo de Oliveira, described the lacklustre sales as a “major victory” for protestors.

Some indigenous peoples have experience the impact of fracking in Peru, she told Climate Home, noticing pollution in the rivers.

Fracking has been associated with methane, a potent greenhouse gas, leaking into the air or water, although the impacts are disputed.

“It is a vicious circle”, de Oliveira added. “When climate change gets worse and water scarcity gets worse, the only source of water will be contaminated.”

Weak demand for fracking rights may also reflect tough global conditions for oil companies, which are scaling back investment amid low oil prices.

Read more on: Fossil Fuels