Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno
Part I: “This whole business of fracking is great”
HAVANA TIMES — The root cause of the economic problems that overwhelm our economy, as my colleague Erasmo Calzadilla has correctly pointed out, is the energy shortage. Historically, Cuba has stated that it lacks large fossil fuel reserves and that, had it had abundant energy resources at its disposal, its economy could have achieved exponential and sustainable growth and secured greater material and social wellbeing for the population.
The situation is critical, but a radical solution can still be discerned on the horizon. Breakthroughs in extraction technologies are constantly being made. The most telling example of this is to be found in the United States, where shale gas and fracking methods have revitalized old reservoirs. The United States, which went from being an exporter to an importer of crude because of the decline of conventional oil reserves, today has real prospects of becoming an oil-exporting country once again.
Some oil reserves are being exploited in Cuba today, particularly in the northern strip located between Matanzas and the province of La Habana. These wells, which aren’t very large to begin with, are quickly aging and their production levels dropping. Through a process similar to the one described above, these modern technologies could be used to regenerate the wells and to fully exploit a hitherto inaccessible potential. Canadian, Brazilian and European companies that operate these technologies could be reliable partners in such an enterprise, which we obviously cannot undertake on our own.
This could bring us the prosperity and growth that our economy dearly needs. Cuba has the highly-qualified human resources needed for the job and the climate of stability sought by investors. The advantages of the island’s geographic situation are evident, should this source of energy be tapped so close to the large consumers in North America. Should conditions for this exist, this enterprise should be undertaken wholeheartedly, for the benefit and prosperity of all.
Part II: “Who could think of something as reckless as carrying out fracking in Cuba?”
Coming up with a series of apparently convincing arguments in favor of consumerist and irresponsible behavior is easy. We must weigh our true capabilities, however, in order to remain alert to the real dangers involved and the problems that could crush us today and become more widespread tomorrow.
The ecological disaster we have brought on ourselves by abusing fossil fuels, without ecological or sustainable development policies, is something that has been studied and scientifically demonstrated. There might be some hope in the fact that fossil fuels are a non-renewable and finite resource. No few sources, in fact, affirm that conventional oil has already reached its peak. Energy and industrial monopolies, of course, have other perspectives on the matter. That is why they invest so much on research and development and achieve certain technological breakthroughs that should have been analyzed a bit further (from the scientific, environmental and social points of view) before their implementation.
As has been said in hundreds of international fora, fracking is an extremely dangerous procedure, particularly because of its environmental consequences. Injecting high-pressure water into the deeper layers of the earth certainly increases production, but at the cost of contaminating sources of drinking water. This in addition to constituting a new and depleting use of a resource as limited as water is. What’s more, there is good evidence pointing to the fact the pressure changes and movements within the crust caused by the procedure lead to earthquakes.
In short, one can’t take the application of this or that novel procedure lightly. One has to consider all of the inconveniences that could arise – frequently paid for by those who do not reap any of the benefits. Imagine Sherrit coming along and merrily applying fracking procedures in Boca de Jaruco. It manages to extract 30 to 40 million – or even 500 million – in oil. Then, an earthquake hits Havana, the old town and the part of town that is just as old beyond it. Would it be worth it? Sherrit will likely say yes, and our star economists will likely agree with them.
The world is desperately demanding the adoption of a more ecological energy infrastructure. Achieving this without causing disasters and famines will probably require a combination of de-growth strategies in hyper-rich and consumerist societies and the salvaging of the less developed nations.
I believe we can aspire to this without resorting to practices as dangerous as those that irresponsibly play with nature or recklessly destroy it.
That everyone will benefit from the work of these big companies is also rather unconvincing. Capital grows and multiplies for investors, but the proletariat is left with peanuts. To illustrate this, just look at how the people who sustained sugar production in this country throughout history are doing now. Sugar refineries are either shut down or producing little, soil and water resources have been exhausted or contaminated and the towns and places around these refineries are in frank decadence – and this without having been managed by a foreign capitalist for over fifty years. In addition, oil has brought nefarious consequences for many Third World economies as a result of the dependency and corruption it creates in those societies, from the economic and political points of view.
The most worrying thing of all is how the words of my alter-ego above can become reality. I certainly see no true, solid guarantee that there’ll be any opposition to jumping on that wagon if it ever made a stop here. Every irresponsible initiative based on the policy of development at all costs has been adopted in Cuba sooner or later, without acknowledging, reflecting on or debating the issue, much less a collective decision-making mechanism that looks at the larger economic, social and ecological reality.
I want to say I am not among those who oppose such initiatives automatically. I believe some things could be more advantageous than others and that we must analyze the pros and cons. However, it has become customary for our government to end up doing what a small group of people with specific interests wants to do.
Recall the debate surrounding agro-fuels. First a number of reservations were voiced, most of all because Fidel Castro wasn’t personally fond of these. Once Fidel retired, the spread of these plantations across the country is even publicized by Granma. Has there ever been a debate about genetically modified crops? There’s been some, but it hasn’t had an impact on the posture of authorities as regards their use.
What can the people of Cuba who are not directly involved in this matter know about the plans the CUPET corporation has in this connection? What degree of control do we have over the shares, dealings, long-term investments and other actions of Cuba’s State oil company, as its alleged owners? What guarantee do we have they aren’t going to be taking in when, in a perfectly feasible future, they try to sell us on the “benefits” of fracking?