Cuba: Not Quite Fracking, but Close Enough

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.

3 thoughts on “Cuba: Not Quite Fracking, but Close Enough

  • October 24, 2019 at 9:43 pm

    Thanks for the comments with concerns on the environmental health of Cuba. But it does not get clear to me, since the news say that it is water steam, not liquid water into the geological fractures, so, we are speaking of a different technique then. And, maybe there is a precipitation after the injection, I am not sure, not being a geologist or a specialist on these matters. Can anyone give more pertinent data?

  • August 30, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    The failures of others are a good learning tool and the recent EarthQuakes directly
    linked to fracking are a fact . Haliburton has been proving that fracking of rock causing new fault lines and poisoning of fresh water can be accomplished in a
    demonocracy driven by Greed. Dont let this happen to you, Was there any fracking in Haiti? Liqified Natural Gas can provide synthetic oil products and alternative energy and higher oil prices could help prevent unnessessary earthquakes and loss of fresh water wich is more valuable than oil.
    Thank You

  • August 27, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    The recovery of oil from porous reservoirs can be greatly assisted, and the proportion recovered by injecting water – a process known as “water flooding”. This is accomplished at pressure below that which would be needed to fracture the rock.
    When dealing with the fracturing operations one should realize that this technique has been employed for many, many years. Certainly back in to the 1950’s. Though mostly at greater depths. With care however fracturing can be a safe, valuable process.

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