` Olive Groves and 'Fracking'

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Olive Groves and 'Fracking'

May. 20, 2013
By Marcos Catena Viedma

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Our olive groves have one scare after another. Turns out that the major threat to olive groves is not the expan­sion of Chi­nese crops, the Moroc­can pro­duc­tion, the low prices or the Reform of the Com­mon Agri­cul­tural Pol­icy (CAP).

The biggest prob­lem can already be seen in the hori­zon and it is much more seri­ous than the ones men­tioned above. This threat is the frack­ing — also called hydraulic frac­tur­ing. We bet­ter get used to the name and to the name of the com­pany behind it: Oil & Gas Cap­i­tal, Ltd.

This tech­nique is based on the extrac­tion of nat­ural gas by the drilling of a well, first ver­ti­cally and then with turns and con­tin­u­ing hor­i­zon­tally. A mix of water and sand is pumped into the well at high pres­sure together with almost 400 dif­fer­ent chem­i­cals. These wells reach depths of around 2,000 and 3,000 meters but they could even reach 5,000 meters below ground.

The slate breaks and allows the release of nat­ural gas. Accord­ing to a report of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, among the sub­stances that are injected we can find toxic, aller­genic, muta­genic and car­cino­genic sub­stances — dam­ag­ing releases that the com­pa­nies have done their utmost to not have to declare them.

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So, how does this affect the olive groves?

Oil & Gas Cap­i­tal has applied for, and been granted, many per­mits for the exploita­tion of gas in the province of Jaén by means of this tech­nique.

I will focus on the case of the Juras­sic aquifer of Úbeda, a huge car­bon­ated and highly frac­tured aquifer that meets the require­ments for bear­ing the brunt of all the neg­a­tive impacts this tech­nique can cause.

The aquifer of Úbeda is a prime exam­ple of this sit­u­a­tion, which may be extended to aquifers all around the province, and that will affect the main pro­duc­tion areas of the province — some of the most impor­tant munic­i­pal­i­ties like Úbeda, Baeza and Vil­lacar­rillo.

The area of Úbeda sits over a huge aquifer which cov­ers about 20,000 square kilo­me­ters. This aquifer, where there are around 300 wells, irri­gates 20.000 hectares of olive groves. There is also another small aquifer over it that recharges the aquifer of Úbeda and which is con­nected to it due to the huge amount of drilled wells.

Oil & Gas Cap­i­tal has applied for a range of per­mits in the province. Two of them — the Ulises 2, which is in force, and the Him­i­cle 3, for which the com­pany has applied— will effect the aquifer in its south-west­ern end.

If wells are drilled in this area by means of this frack­ing tech­nique, the aquifer may be seri­ously harmed. Depend­ing on the flow direc­tions of the aquifer, these areas may become pol­luted:

  • The aquifer itself, that tak­ing into account both con­fined and uncon­fined parts amounts to 880 km²
  • The Guadal­i­mar river, which is linked to the aquifer and a nat­ural water dis­charge
  • The Girib­aile reser­voir that col­lects water from the Guadal­i­mar river and is in direct con­tact with the aquifer
  • The Lower Guadalquivir, as the Guadal­i­mar river is its main trib­u­tary
  • The car­bon­ated sur­face of the area of Beas de Segura — as accord­ing to many, it may be con­nected to the aquifer
  • The Miocene aquifer of Úbeda on the explo­ration sur­face and con­nected through wells with the deeper car­bon­ated aquifer

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Aquifer Pol­lu­tion

The pol­lu­tion of the aquifer would be more likely due to its high per­me­abil­ity, the intense frac­tur­ing it is sub­jected to and its great depth. The deep­est well is 770 meters depth.

In addi­tion, the lat­est research car­ried out through seis­mic, mechan­i­cal and ver­ti­cal elec­tric explo­rations locate a range of strike-slip faults around 30 and 100 meters deep that affect the aquifer and its under­ly­ing unit which may reach the depth where frack­ing exploita­tion is expected to take place.

These faults may con­nect the highly pol­luted exploita­tion area to the aquifer and, at the same time, the aquifer itself con­nects to the Guadal­i­mar river, the Miocene aquifer of Úbeda and even to the aquifer of the Nat­ural Park.

Seis­mic­ity

Another harm­ful effect may be the increase of the seis­mic activ­ity of the area. There are 3 main faults, apart from those of smaller sizes. These faults affect the deeper mate­ri­als and, as a con­se­quence of the lubri­ca­tion orig­i­nated by the fluid injec­tion, the faults may reac­ti­vate.

In addi­tion, seis­mic­ity may also increase due to these injec­tions, the hydraulic frack­ing and the explo­sions, in addi­tion to the sharp changes of water lev­els.

Cur­rent experts think that among earth­quake pos­si­ble trig­ger­ing causes an impor­tant fac­tor to take into con­sid­er­a­tion is the action of water — both in the aquifer and in its under­ly­ing and over­ly­ing units. This water may cause new frac­tures or the reac­ti­va­tion of faults.

Another effect that may increase the seis­mic­ity in the area would be the dis­so­lu­tion of a vast quan­tity of evap­or­ites from the geo­log­i­cal unit exist­ing under the aquifer. This is due to the con­tri­bu­tion of a huge amount of water for exploita­tion which may go through the frac­tures from the lower lev­els and that may cause col­lapses or diapir move­ments which would inten­sify the num­ber of earth­quakes.

Dif­fi­cul­ties

We will find pol­lu­tion spread­ing across a great part of the province due to both sur­face and ground water pol­lu­tion.

We could hardly pub­li­cize our olive groves and olive oil as a great prod­uct if our land is irri­gated with highly pol­luted waters.

Also the Nat­ural Park of Cazorla, Segura and las Vil­las would be harmed if this pol­lu­tion reaches it, as well as the slo­gan of the province Jaén, paraíso inte­rior” (“Jaén, inner par­adise”)

Not even the gen­er­a­tion of much-needed employ­ment is a valid pre­text since the aver­age life expectancy of the wells is around 5 or 6, and the com­pa­nies exploit­ing them would pre­sum­ably hire work­ers already trained in Texas or Okla­homa, for exam­ple. This sit­u­a­tion will end up with an area use­less for its orig­i­nals pur­poses.

I would like to encour­age this sec­tor to do some research on the topic and on this fast-com­ing threat which some agrar­ian orga­ni­za­tions, such as UPA (small-scale live­stock own­ers and farm­ers’ asso­ci­a­tion) or COAG (coor­di­na­tor of live­stock own­ers and farmer’s asso­ci­a­tions), have already reported. More­over I also want to encour­age the affected towns to fol­low the lead of Tor­reper­ogil and declare them­selves as frack­ing free towns.”

Rep­sol Inves­ti­ga­ciones petrolíferas S.A. has ceased the per­mit it had applied for due to the alle­ga­tions made by the House of Alba for harm­ing their inter­ests. How­ever, the local gov­ern­ment of Úbeda, town which will have their ground water affected, has belit­tled declar­ing the town as Frack­ing free” because of the votes from the two largest par­ties.

I hope they will real­ize their own mis­take and that our tree, which is the sacred tree of Athena, tri­umphs once more and that our politi­cians will not fol­low the siren’s songs. Our future depends on it.

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