As many as 60,000 people protested in Mexico City last week against reforms of the country's Energy laws that are currently being considered by the federal government. The proposed changes would pave the way for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) techniques to extract petroleum or natural gas.
Mexico's Senate recently passed the new hydrocarbon law, which permits fracking. The law is now being debated in the lower house of Congress. It is an extension of earlier energy reforms passed in December 2013.
Alfonso Ramirez Cuellar, president of Mexico's El Barzon agro-political group, said the recent protest was organized by 15 rural and indigenous organizations to highlight the “danger of people being stripped of their land."
He said the new energy legislation opens the door for private capital and could lead to the "perpetual occupation" of land, or at least until its resources are drained, leaving properties “useless and with great environmental damage."
He said aquifers in northern Mexico were already over-exploited, with little water for human consumption and agricultural activities.
In addition, he claimed the legislation would put an end to electricity subsidies that currently benefit 28 million households across Mexico. This would affect 500,000 farmers, and push those using electric irrigation systems into bankruptcy, he said.
Nuevo Leon State Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) bloc leader Eduardo Arguijo Baldenegro said residents of municipalities in the area near the Burgos Basin shale gas deposits had traveled to Mexico City to protest fracking. He said the technique could cause irreversible damage to land, aquifers and livestock in the area.
He also complained that the National Water Commission (Conagua) had begun using water from the Venustiano Carranza Dam -- which supplies water to approximately 35,000 hectares of cropland and livestock -- for experimental shale gas extraction wells. He said Conagua was buying water rights from farmers for this purpose.
PRD Senator Dolores Padierna said the proposed energy reforms benefit the private sector and promote opacity. Geothermal energy reforms could allow water privatization through diverse concessions, she warned, although she noted that the National Water Law currently only allows concessions in geothermal reservoirs.
Vanguardia newspaper reported that the 10,000 fracking wells expected to be drilled for shale extraction in Coahuila state would use 290 million cubic meters of water.
The Mexican Alliance Against Fracking said there were already 20 fracking wells in the country, even though the energy reforms have not yet been approved. Of those 20 wells, 15 are in Coahuila state, four in Nuevo León State, and one in Tamaulipas.
The alliance has presented legislators with a petition with 14,000 signatures calling for the prohibition of fracking.