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"The hectares where the wells are installed are unrecoverable"

Argentina: Oil and gas wells amidst pear and apple crops

There is an orchard even in the outer limits of the Argentine Patagonian desert. Thanks to the canalization of the Rio Negro, the arid land became ideal to grow the best pears and apples in the world. Allen is at the center of that green cord. Its inhabitants live on fruit. Or at least they used to, because the business is no longer doing as well as it used to. Sales fell, farmers aged, and their children emigrated. Nearly ten years ago, these farmers began to receive the visit of oil companies. There was gas, a lot of gas, under the farms and the companies offered to rent some plots to place an extraction nozzle there. Today Allen is striking at sight: next to the fruit trees there are oil and gas wells. No more than 50 meters separate some nozzles from the houses of the old producers.

Allen is on the eastern border of the Vaca Muerta field, one of the largest reservoirs of unconventional oil and gas in the world. To extract the crude oil and gas in Vaca Muerta, oil companies have to use fracking, a very expensive technique.

The opening of a well is a work of great magnitude. Hundreds of trucks transport water and sand to the tower that is placed at the mouth of the well. The work is performed at full speed, day and night. In the middle of the Neuquen desert, the movement of trucks goes unnoticed. In Allen, where the Fernandez Oro Station (EF0) stands, it is quite noticeable for the farmers who live and produce there.

A particularity of the extraction by means of fracking is that the only thing that remains in the place after the initial whirlpool of people working at the site are some pipes that hardly rise one meter above the surface. Everything happens below ground and it's controlled at a distance. "They look for the farmers who have economic problems and hound them until they settle with the oil company. They are in a bad place and need the money," said IbaƱez.

There are 130 wells operating in Allen that produce 3.4 million cubic meters of gas per day and 780 cubic meters of crude, according to YPF data. The deposit accounts for 20% of all of the company's gas production. After the initial impact that the wells produced in the community, the farmers no longer protest against fracking. The resistance has been reduced to an organization that denounces the impact of oil production on water.

The risks underground are unpredictable and on the surface difficult to prove, at least scientifically. In Argentina there are no studies that confirm cases of contamination in the fruit of the Rio Negro valley. Diego Rodil was a researcher at the state-run National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) when the fracking arrived in the area. He devoted part of his work to measuring the impact, but he says that he did not find enough support to link the chemicals found in apples and pears with extractive activities. What he did prove was the obvious impact on the ground. "The hectares where the wells are installed are unrecoverable" "There are up to 30 trucks working during the opening of the well and, to prevent them from getting stuck in the mud, they cover the area with half a meter of calcareous. Nothing will grow there for decades. The residues of the accidents, as the spills are called, affect the ground and permeate the irrigation channels," Rodil stated.

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