Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is making a steady push into the Northern Patagonia provinces of Neuquen and Rio Negro, as oil and gas companies are waving irresistible sums in front of small fruit farmers in the Alto Valle.
These are dollar amounts that would have caused “a laughter attack” twenty or thirty years ago, writes Claudio Andrade who says the petroleras are paying as much as $135,000 pesos in Year One for the right to explore one hectare of land. In comparison, renting out a hectare of land in the Alto Valle for fruit production will only net a farmer around $450 pesos per month.
Pablo Laurente, the head of the local Agrarian Federation says most of the local farmers allowing fracking on their properties are tired, between 65 and 75 years old, and in debt after several years of fruit harvest losses. In other words, these are not the children and grandkids of the owners, many of whom oppose fracking as evident in their interviews with Andrade.
In the town of Allen, 300 producers work 500 hectares of land. Of that group, only 6 local farmers supported anti-fracking legislation during a protest on August 23, says Sebastian Hernandez, president of the Allen Chamber of Farm Producers.
Despite the wide pro-fracking margin, not everyone is on board with this new method of Patagonia exploration and extraction, a sentiment shared by long-time Allen farmer Alfredo Svampa: “Once they enter your property, you can’t get them off, and when they finally leave the farm, it’s not worth anything.”
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