With analysts saying that the country’s gas deposits could run out before 2026, Bolivia is increasingly eyeing its unconventional gas deposits, but not everybody is on board with the country’s drive towards industrialisation – The Guardian reports.
Bolivia is the third-largest dry natural gas producer in mainland South America, trailing only Venezuela and Argentina. It is a key supplier of natural gas in the region, and its exports are shipped via pipelines to Brazil and Argentina. Bolivia’s natural gas exports were 516 Bcf in 2012, increasing from 470 Bcf in 2011.
However, Brazil and Argentina are demanding greater volumes, and in 2010, Bolivia agreed to increase imports to Argentina to nearly 365 Bcf/y by 2017. The problem is that because of growing domestic demand in the industrial sector and insufficient production growth and a fall in proven natural gas reserves, Bolivia is having difficulty meeting its contractual obligations.
This is why Bolivia is very keen to exploit its 48 trillion cubic feet of shale gas. Back in 2013, the country’s state-owned Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) announced it would begin studies to identify shale gas deposits. In the same year, it ordered companies to take samples of one particularly promising geological formation, sent a delegation to the Vaca Muerta shale gas deposits in Argentina, and signed an agreement with Argenitna’s YPF to “evaluate shale gas potential” in Bolivia’s Chaco region and train Bolivians in shale gas techniques.
“The possibility that Bolivia will start extra-officially producing unconventional gas is slowly crystallizing,” Jorge Campanini, from Cochabamba-based CEDIB, wrote in a report on fracking in Latin America published in July 2014 by the Observatorio Petrolero Sur.
“Extra-officially because there is no law that regulates hydraulic fracturing, but as a result of policy expanding the hydrocarbons frontier it’s possible to begin evaluations/studies – as well as conduct deep exploration – because nothing prohibits it.”
“The hydrocarbons bill is still officially a state secret,” Campanini told The Guardian, “but despite that we have managed to see a presentation which included a slide saying that the exploitation of unconventional gas would be included.”
Although the hydrocarbons bill – promised in 2012 – has not materialised yet, the Bolivian government doesn’t hide its keenness on shale gas. This causes concern among environmentalists. They point out that shale gas exploration is potentially harmful to the environment and in its spirit incompatible with the “Law for the Rights of Mother Earth”, passed by the government in 2010. One of the principles of the law is “guaranteeing Mother Earth’s regeneration”, and one of the seven rights is the “protection of water from contamination.”
Elizabeth Peredo, from the Fundacion Solon, told the Guardian that Bolivia’s aim is to become a “regional energy power” and that plans to invest in nuclear – US$2 billion, according to [President] Evo [Morales] – are “very concerning” too.
“We don’t have enough oil or gas reserves to become a regional energy power,” she says. “This totally contravenes the Law of Mother Earth. We have to find another way to think about development and energy. We have to think about it in terms of climate change, and not fracking or nuclear.”
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