Rogelio Manuel Díaz Moreno
HAVANA TIMES — Some days ago, I wrote a post dealing with the use of non-conventional techniques in the extraction of oil at Boca de Jaruco. There, oil prospecting is being conducted by a joint operation undertaken by the Cuban State company CUPET and the Russian consortium Zarubezhneft. The piece had been prompted by a Cuban news report on the application of a novel extraction technique that seemed very alarming to me.
From the exchange that followed the publication of my post, it became clear to me that the procedure in question is not the notorious fracking. It has some similar characteristics, such as the process of injecting high-pressure water into the crust’s’ deep strata in order to make fossil fuels flow out of them. The geological characteristics of the soil, however, are not the ones typically involved in fracking, and there are other operational details that are different.
I must acknowledge my mistake, even though I consider it more than forgivable. If I were to put it in poetic terms, it is not a rose, even though it has round red petals, thorns and the smell we expect from a rose. It merely grows in a slightly different soil and the thorns are subtly different. Any layman would get confused, particularly when the gardeners tend to speak to us in a deceitful manner.
The vagueness of the report was cause enough for distrust. The expert said they had to work with much caution, as the techniques in use “had a bad reputation around the world.” At no point did they go to the trouble of explaining the technique was not fracking. In another official report I came across, officials declared that “there are no saintly techniques, all of them have pros and cons.”
We can imagine what they mean by this. In societies with certain legal guarantees, such as freedom of information, the ability to engage government powers and elective mechanisms designed to approve or reject certain policies, a public company cannot simply do as it pleases. In such a context, if a controversial technological leap is about to be made – be it the implementation of GMO agriculture, stem-cell research or fracking – one has to work public opinion into the equation. That, however, is far from our case.
If the executives of the CUPET-Zarubezhneft venture find nothing intrinsically wrong with fracking, if a kind of sister procedure was implemented in the Boca de Jaruco area, would anything have stopped them from applying fracking techniques, if conditions allowed it? What mechanisms, what channels, what “appropriate time and place” can people in this country resort to in order to protest such a measure? This is of course a much broader issue, as those people who are trying to raise an ecological awareness in response to the use of transgenic crops, might remind us.
I therefore want to answer the potential question as to whether I may have gotten ahead of developments by condemning the use of fracking at Boca de Jaruco. If we limit ourselves to the strict technical definition of the term, the answer would be yes. However, this “injection of water without fracking” will still cause adverse collateral effects. We still face the question as to how severe these problems will be and who they will affect.
If we do not limit ourselves to the narrow technical definition, if we rather ask ourselves how Cuban public companies are administered and run, how the population can have any say in the drawing of the risks-benefits balance, the answer changes: we aren’t getting ahead of ourselves in the least. Quite the contrary: cases like this one reveal just how far behind we are.