Dirty water

Can we drink oil instead of water?


Fracking threatens groundwater sources, rivers and lakes; in the midst of war between countries for this vital resource

El fracking It is a technique to facilitate the extraction of fossil fuels that would otherwise be impossible due to the physical characteristics of these deposits. To do this, water mixed with other substances is required to obtain oil or natural gas. It is an alternative to face the future scarcity of hydrocarbons.

What is fracking?

The traditional oil wells they are not supplying the energy demand that society requires to continue with the current pace of life. British Petroleum calculated that there were 1.65 trillion barrels of oil in 2020. With average annual consumption of just over 35 trillion barrels a year, it is estimated that there are approximately 47 years of reserves left.

Some developed countries have looked for fossil fuels in unconventional fuel wells, including a technique to increase their extraction called hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Miguel Ángel Santinelli, director of the Faculty of Social Responsibility of the Anahuac University, explains that this extraction technique is based on the drilling of vertical wells where high-pressure water with different chemicals is used to fracture the rocks that surround the deposits of oil and gas, which, unlike conventional wells, is not isolated, but mixed with other particles.

The benefits of using fracking are the reduction of the cost of energy, a greater extraction of fossil fuels and the creation of jobs related to these activities.

However, hydraulic fracturing has repercussions on the environment. A single well requires between 9 and 29 million liters of water, enough to fill up to eight Olympic size swimming pools. This represents 10 times more volume required compared to the conventional mode of extraction. The water used is mixed with hundreds of chemicals, such as alcohols, salts and acids, as well as heavy metals such as lead and mercury. According to the Mexican Alliance against Fracking, 25% of these substances can cause cancer, affect the endocrine system and damage the nervous system. The return water is not suitable for later use as it arrives contaminated. Without proper management, this water can seep into the subsoil, contaminating the aquifers used for human consumption.

Oil and fracking

The panorama of fracking in Mexico

In the case of Mexico, the practice of fracking it compromises the availability of water in areas of the country where it is already limited. The National Water Commission (Conagua) declared a state of emergency in 2021 due to the persistence of extreme and severe drought conditions, especially in rural areas and marginalized areas in large cities, according to the UNAM Social Research Institute.

Mexico has one of the largest gas reserves in the world, estimated at the equivalent of 59,900 billion barrels of oil by the US Energy Information Administration. As of 2017, the fracking It is regulated by the guidelines issued by the Security, Energy and Environment Agency (ASEA) and Conagua.

Currently there are more than 8,400 wells fracking in seven states: Chiapas, Coahuila, Nuevo León, Puebla, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz, three of these states have a serious water crisis. The annual exploitation rate of these wells is equivalent to that necessary to cover the domestic consumption of between 1.8 and 7.2 million people in a year.

Although the current federal administration promised to ban this extraction technique, the Mexican Alliance against Fracking reported in 2020 that the National Hydrocarbons Commission approved six fuel exploration plans from fracking to public and private companies, in addition to the fact that Petróleos Mexicanos, in its 2019-2023 Business Plan, continues to place the exploration of deposits by hydraulic fracturing as a priority.

However, it is a reality that the environmental damage caused by the fracking they go far beyond any economic benefits that can be obtained. For Santinelli, it should be the last option once the conventional deposits are exhausted, but without a doubt, the best thing will be to bet on the renewable energy.

"Mexico's great opportunity is geothermal energy," added the director of the Faculty of Social Responsibility. "There are power plants in Michoacán and Baja California, but more plants could be opened that take advantage of the heat that comes from the earth's crust."

Mexico is a country surrounded by volcanoes, as can be seen with the Transversal Neovolcanic Axis, which includes volcanoes such as Colima, Paricutin, Nevado de Toluca, the Chichinautzin corridor, the Izta-Popo complex and Pico de Orizaba. The geological activity is constant and the use of the energy that comes from them becomes viable. Geothermal energy is a clean energy source, with environmental impacts comparable to solar and hydropower, which together are more environmentally friendly than oil drilling.

If you wonder how much water does the planet have? The answer is another question, how much fresh water does the planet have, and how much will it have left if we wipe out all the natural sources we have left?


About the Faculty of Social Responsibility of the Anahuac University:

The Faculty of Social Responsibility of the Universidad Anáhuac México, is a Leader in the professional training of people and organizations in matters of Social Responsibility and Sustainable Development at a national and international level, being the only faculty of social responsibility in the world. Our graduates are leaders with a solid human formation but also with extensive training in social responsibility, who from each of their fields of activity, promote actions so that Mexico grows sustainably.

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