Silveira defends studying gas exploration through ‘fracking’ – 04/03/2024 – Environment

Silveira defends studying gas exploration through ‘fracking’ – 04/03/2024 – Environment


The Minister of Mines and Energy, Alexandre Silveira, defends that the country discusses the beginning of the exploration of gas through “fracking” — or hydraulic fracturing, a technique that uses water with sand and chemicals to break deep rocks, on land, and extract the input .

The technique is criticized by environmentalists, who see different problems in the process: contamination of the water table by chemical substances, intensive use of water, environmental degradation and health risks.

Furthermore, natural gas is a highly polluting fuel and opening a new front for its use goes against what was agreed at COP28, last year’s UN (United Nations) climate conference. In the final resolution of the summit, the countries approved the guidance to gradually give up the exploration of fossil fuels.

The minister recognizes that there are environmental impacts, but argues that the country should at least analyze the possibility of authorizing the activity by adding the obligation for environmental compensation.

“I think it’s possible to study”, says Silveira to Sheet. “At the very least, it is necessary for us to know our potentials to sovereignly seek, at each moment in history, to know what we need to kill the cold, produce food, eliminate hunger. All natural riches and potentials must be capable of study,” he says.

Brazil today does not explore “fracking” (also popularly known as shale gas), in contrast to what happens in countries like the United States —where the activity is even experiencing a resurgence— or in Argentina, in the well-known region of Vaca Muerta — there, indigenous people denounce its negative impacts.

“It’s a debate. I argue that this topic needs to be discussed again in Brazil. It has environmental impacts, but, in some regions of the country, they can be environmentally compensated. It’s simple: 82% of American gas is fracking gas, 70% of Argentine gas. Why is Brazil different?” he asks.

Environmentalists criticize Silveira’s speeches, pointing out that the topic has already been widely debated in the country.

“The minister cannot ignore that this discussion has already been going on in Brazil for more than a decade. Of the 753 cities that have shale reserves for unconventional exploration, 478 have already approved municipal laws preventing ‘fracking’ exploration from happening in their territories”, says Nicole de Oliveira, executive director of the Arayara Institute, focused on the issue of fossil fuels.

She states that there have already been dozens of public hearings on this topic in Congress and hundreds of other hearings in Brazilian states and municipalities. “Millions of people have said they are against fracking,” she adds. “The exploratory adventure that the minister is proposing is nonsense.”

The method is banned in some European countries, such as Spain, France and the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the states of Paraná and Santa Catarina, where one of the largest potential shale gas basins in Brazil is located, have laws prohibiting the practice.

According to the Energy Research Company, there are also potential reserves in Maranhão, Piauí, Amazonas and Pará.

Ilan Zugman, director of the NGO in Latin America and environmental manager, highlights that talking about compensating for the environmental effects of “fracking” is utopian.

“The main impacts of ‘fracking’ are methane leaks, which is a gas much more powerful than carbon dioxide [para as mudanças climáticas]”, he says. According to estimates by the IEA (International Energy Agency), methane is responsible for around 30% of the increase in the planet’s temperature.

“The chemicals used in ‘fracking’ exploration have a great potential to contaminate aquifers. We have documented cases in the United States of people who became contaminated, had diseases such as cancer, [e viviam] close to the fracking station area. In Argentina, there are also terrible cases of people getting sick,” says Zugman.

The discussion launched by Silveira is stimulated by national companies and associations such as Abegás (Brazilian Association of Piped Gas Distributing Companies) and Abiquim (Brazilian Chemical Industry Association), as well as state governments (such as Rio de Janeiro and Minas General, state of the minister).

According to Silveira, the government is developing a series of policies aimed at expanding the availability of natural gas in the country as part of a broader effort to make Brazilian industry more competitive.

“We have little gas supply and, consequently, high gas prices in Brazil, making us uncompetitive to do what we have most important, and that is the main purpose of our government, to generate jobs, generate opportunities and generate income”, states.

One of the initiatives that the minister is already putting into practice is trying to convince oil companies to cut the reinjection of gas into oil wells. This method, used to push the oil upwards at the time of extraction, is defended by the Petrobras board as a way to trap part of the carbon associated with the oil underground and, therefore, reduce greenhouse gas emissions — but has been questioned by Silveira .

The expansion of gas use in Brazil goes against the energy transition, as it can dirty the national energy matrix, which is much cleaner than the world average.

“Starting using ‘fracking’, which is one of the most devastating techniques for extracting fossil fuels, at this time of climate crisis and when Brazil wants to be a showcase of climate solutions for the world, with G20, with COP30, would be a huge shot in the foot in terms of reputation”, assesses Zugman.

According to the IEA, to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, it is essential that no investments are made in new fossil fuel projects. The goal is one of the steps to comply with the Paris Agreement and limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Understand how ‘fracking’ works

All existing oil and gas is distributed in small drops or small pockets of gas beneath the surface.

In the case of so-called conventional wells, the reserves are in more easily accessible soil, such as sand or clay. But some reserves, called unconventional, are in very hard rocks, where neither oil nor gas can move.

These low-permeability rocks occur in different formations, such as shale (or shale, as it is more commonly known), as well as “closed” sandstone or carbonate reservoirs that contain oil and gas. The extraction of fuel from these reserves is done through “fracking”, or hydraulic fracturing.

The technique fractures the rock using water at very high pressure, mixed with chemical reagents and sand. With the fissures, the oil and gas flow into a tube and are taken to the surface.

As waste, there are millions of liters of fluid used in fracturing, which are reinserted underground or discarded elsewhere — in reservoirs or, when done irregularly, on roadsides, rivers and plantations.


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