15 August 2019 – In the last month two states in Brazil have formally banned fracking in their territory. The bans protect 18 million people from the dangers of the oil and shale gas extraction and cover the largest shale gas reserve in the Southern Hemisphere.
Building on this momentum, the Brazilian National Congress today began discussions of a national level prohibition of this fossil fuel technique.
The states where the ban has recently been enacted are Paraná and Santa Catarina. Together they represent one of the largest populations in the world to permanently abolish fracking, along with countries such as France and states of the United States such as New York. If implemented, a fracking ban in the entire Brazilian territory would extend this protection to a total of about 210 million people.
“A nation-wide ban would also prevent the release of a substantial amount of gases driving the global climate crisis, which could harm Brazil’s capacity to fulfil our commitments to cut pollution.” said Rubens Born, 350.Org Regional Team Leader in Latin America.
Following from the state laws, the Brazilian Senate held its first public hearing about the risks posed by oil and shale gas extraction to the public health and the environment.
Representatives of civil society movements, such as the Coalition No Fracking Brazil (Coesus), and farmers from regions that could be potentially affected by the fracture of underground rocks shared with the Senators their concerns about the negative effects of fracking. They also called for a law aiming to prevent fracking across country.
“Farmers and their families are the ones who would pay the bill of allowing fracking” said Juliano Bueno de Araújo, 350.Org Climate Change Campaigns Coordinator for Latin America.
In response to their request, Senator Soraya Thronicke (PSL-MS), who is the head of the Senate’s Commission of Agriculture and presided over the public hearing, said she plans to deepen the debates about this subject in the coming months.
The farmers’ and environmentalists’ call to ban fracking is based on evidence gathered from case studies and science research in areas where the extraction of oil and shale gas is being performed, such as some states in Argentina and in the United States. They mention several reasons for their opposition, including soil acidification and the contamination of water sources by toxic substances used to break the rocks, as well as the risk that fossil fuels pose to the global climate.
“The fracking sector is the industry of death. Besides, Brazil has a vast array of opportunities to develop renewable sources of energy. What our country needs to do is develop public policies to foster technology and sustainability,” said Beto Lunitti, who was a farmer for many years in Paraná and former mayor of Toledo, the first municipality to approve a law banning fracking in the state of Paraná.
Pressure from communities, most of them in small towns, was key to the unprecedented decision of banning the shale gas extraction in Santa Catarina and Paraná. After a six-year campaign promoted by citizens, local organizations and NGOs, the two states passed laws, recently ratified, to permanently prohibit the activity in their territories.
“We are celebrating these changes in Brazil as one of the most meaningful wins of the civil society over the fossil fuel corporations globally in the last few years. These communities reinforce a growing global movement of people using their power to lead the transition to the clean, socially just energy era that the world needs so much,” said May Boeve, 350.Org Executive Director.
350.Org and its partner in Brazil, local NGO Instituto Internacional Arayara, contributed to the fracking ban campaign, along with dozens of farmers’ cooperatives, college faculty and alumni, city council members and citizens. The campaign started in 2013, when ANP, the Brazilian government agency responsible for the regulation of the oil, gas and biofuels activities in the country, opened for auction the right of exploiting vast shale gas reserves to companies from Brazil and abroad.
Citizens backing the campaign formed a coalition and began to invite families from the towns and rural areas of the state of Paraná that could be potentially most affected by fracking to participate in this national debate. As the discussions about the risks posed by extraction of gas and oil developed, community engagement grew and led to petitions and demonstrations.
When the people’s demand gained traction, local legislators from across the political spectrum started promoting laws prohibiting fracking at various levels of government. Several municipalities have passed regulations of this kind across Brazil.
In 2016, the requests for protection of the environment and the public health reached the State Congress and resulted in a temporary fracking ban in Paraná, which was now converted into a permanent prohibition of the extraction technique. In Santa Catarina, the movement was catalysed by progress in neighbouring Paraná and launched a similar campaign in 2016.
Similar campaigns for fracking bans are gathering momentum in other countries across South America, such as Paraguay, and have resulted in fracking bans in Uruguay and in the Argentine province of Entre Ríos. In Colombia, a law with this goal has been discussed in the Congress.
“Water knows no frontiers. If the Guarani Aquifer is contaminated in Uruguay, it will contaminate Brazil’s side and vice versa. This is why we should join efforts against corrupt decisions that might ruin our communities and our way of living.” said Carol Aviaga, a Senator in Uruguay who opposes fracking in that country and participated in the public hearing in Brazil’s Senate.