In the future, Bolivia will not have enough conventional gas reserves to supply domestic demand and fulfill its contracts to export gas to Argentina and Brazil. Then YPFB is already developing plans to exploit shale gas reserves , 1 which is a type of gas trapped in shale rock, which is also known as slate gas or shell gas in English. To extract this gas from the rock, we must use a technique called hydraulic fracturing or fracking to break the rock with horizontal injections of water and high pressure chemicals to fracture the rock and allow the gas to escape.
Shale gas extraction is a very polluting process that destroys the environment and threatens the health of those who live near the wells. The hydraulic fracture requires the drilling of more wells and the useful time of these wells is generally shorter than conventional ones, so the development of fracking in Bolivia will expose the Bolivian population more to the risk of environmental and health contingencies than conventional gas.
A fracking well typically consumes between 15 and 27 million liters of water and between 80 and 140 tons of chemicals. The fluid injected into the well is a mixture of 95% water, 4.5% sand and 0.5% chemicals. This fluid can contain up to 65 chemicals that often contain benzine, glycol ethers, toluene, ethanol and nofenol. 4 Some of these chemicals such as benzine and its derivatives, ethylene glycol 2-BE, naphthaleneand methylene chloride are considered carcinogens. A study of 353 chemists identified and used for fracking concluded that 75% of these affect the skin, eyes and sensory organs, 52% affect the nervous system, 40% affect the immune system and the kidneys, 46 % affect the cardiovascular system and blood and 25% are carcinogenic. 5 Due to the high risk of these chemicals, the hydrocarbon industry often keeps secret the content of the chemical components injected into the hydraulic fracture. According to a study by the US Congress, 279 of fracking products used between 2005 and 2009 included “trade secret” chemicals that the manufacturer did not publish their content. 6
When fracking fluids are injected and fracture the rock, salts, chlorine and bromine are absorbed. The most worrying thing is that this fluid can absorb radioactive and carcinogenic elements from rock such as uranium, radium, radon and thorium 7 and also heavy metals such as arsenic, barium, strontium and selenium. 8 Most of this toxic mixture will remain below one thousand meters in the ground, where there is less risk of contaminating the reserves of groundwater used for human consumption, but between 15% and 20% will leave with the gas extracted, this residue is called “flowback”, 9and the filtration of this liquid is usually observed months, even years later, often mixed with groundwater. If the well does not have adequate cement or steel walls to prevent leakage, fracking fluids can contaminate drinking water in the region very easily in the short term. In the long term, fracking fluids can migrate through fissures in the rock and enter groundwater aquifers. 10In addition, this fluid that leaves the well needs to be stored away from rivers and lakes in deposits with impermeable membranes to avoid soil contamination. Water can be treated and decontaminated through a system of filters or by evaporation, but these processes cost a lot, so the fluids that leave the well are usually reinjected into the storage wells to reduce costs. eleven
It is for this reason that most of the water used in fracking is lost forever and does not return to the water cycle to be reused. The extraction of 48 tcf of shale gas in Bolivia would consume between 112 and 335 billion liters of water, with an approximate consumption of 242 billion liters (not including the water used in the maintenance of gas pipelines). 12 Shale gas extraction in the Chaco basin will use much of a vital resource that is already scarce, putting other water needs in the region at risk.