By Southern Petroleum Observatory - PAHO
In an EIA you have positive impacts / negative impacts. They bring computers, books to schools… In this way they obtain a positive score that makes the environmental impact derived from the exploitation or the drilling of levels allow them to operate.
"The problem is not the deposit, but rather that we have a town above the site," a representative of the Pluspetrol company assured Alicia Ferrari, a member of the Rincón Limay de Plottier Environmental Association. The town, located about 20 kilometers from the city of Neuquén, was for decades part of the network of fruit and vegetable production in the valley, but the economic policies of the 1990s and the subsequent crisis forced many farmers to leave their fields. , which were bought by concentrated groups in the sector -such as Moño Azul- or turned into private neighborhoods -the destination of oil dividends. To these transformations was added the development of the Centennial Field, which was discovered by the state YPF in 1961 and which was entered by Pluspetrol in 1977.
"We are settled on a deposit that is obviously very interesting and will surely continue drilling," says Ferrari, who does not spare the community authorities questions. "If the municipality does not control what the land is [its area of competence], what can become of us." This deposit has an area of 206.5 km² and extends under four locations: Neuquén, Centenario, Plottier and Senillosa, the most populated provincial cordon.
“When I went to speak with the people of Pluspetrol they provided us with a CD with the environmental impact reports presented to the province on the Plottier area of the Centennial Field. There is a very important strip of locations made or planned that are in an area of schools, but there is also a location here, in the square ”, says Alicia, and points to the place where she is standing. "We assume that they are not going to do the well here, but apparently they have an authorized location in front of the Municipality."
-What are you looking for?
A: We know that we cannot say 'no' to oil exploitation, because oil exploitation maintains this province, which lives off royalties. What we want is to minimally comply with the regulations: that means controls, that means cutting-edge technology - which is less polluting. If it is not controlled, if obsolete technology is used, there is spillage, there is waste; without controls this does not work. It cannot be that the noise level, the safety levels are not controlled - during a location or during a drilling; that firefighters are not trained; there is no accident prevention. There are no forecasts of any kind, only those that the company wants, makes and likes.
According to the ordinance on hydrocarbon exploitations that we have in Plottier, the Executive is responsible for complying with the Environmental Law - in addition to a national law there is a provincial law, which will not be wonderful, but at least you have to comply with that .
The threat of torrential rain over the valley was manifested in the black, leaden sky, which contrasted with the terra cotta fences. Sunday afternoon, a Sunday in May, cold. The arrival of Norberto Calducci to the Plaça de Plottier marked the beginning of a tour of educational establishments neighboring hydrocarbon locations. Calducci is a teacher and years ago he questioned the entry of oil companies into schools from the local leadership of the Association of Education Workers of Neuquén (Aten).
-Where are we now?
N: We are in front of school 266 in the Los Hornos neighborhood, across the street is an oil location, the Pluspetrol company drilled a well some time ago [January 2005].
-Did the educational community intervene when the drilling was carried out?
N: Yes, there were complaints. We were in charge of the Aten section and with some colleagues we did investigations, including the school counselors, because it affected school life. In addition, when it is drilled, underground water bodies are crossed and that produces a proven contamination, with all the inconveniences that this brings for the wells and water intakes that are in the neighborhood and in the surroundings.
Meetings were held with the neighbors, but the company countered this by making donations to the schools and to the people of the neighborhood: computers, paint, installed equipment with doctors for oral and dental control and myopia of the students. He did an entire activity that, somehow, 'ironed' what we were developing. Today, after that euphoria, what remains is the well - not only in front of the school, there are other wells drilled back here-; and this remains, the pollution that is not seen because it is underground.
-Is this the only Plottier school close to or neighboring a location?
N: No, in this proximity of at least 50 meters between the location and the school, only in Plottier, we have three schools in these conditions. There is CPEN 56, where a hole was made practically in the yard; and school 234, where there is a situation similar to this.
- You said that it alters the normal operation of the establishment, in what way?
N: Because all the time you are working, noises are produced, there are certain dangers of explosions. When this location was being built, they worked with some gases and some elements that really put everything that is around at risk, not just the school, there is a health center next door.
-How else do oil companies enter educational establishments?
N: Oil companies present school activities, for example Petrobras had an activity in middle schools on driver education. The activity at the school was suspended that day and Petrobras showed a video, gave talks. Repsol does the same, Pluspetrol does the same, with road safety education and other topics. The oil companies are more than one thinks within the schools, under the excuse that education is also part of the tasks of what they call the Social Responsibility of the Company.
- In what years more or less does this entry of the oil companies begin in the schools?
N: In the last 5 years we can say, more or less.
A: In January 2005 the activity began here, at that time we as the Rincón Limay Environmental Association made a presentation at the Municipality of Plottier, which has ordinances that regulate oil exploitation in the urban area. Although it is true that the subsoil belongs to the company, Plottier has an ordinance by which the Executive must create an administrative body to control the soil. The ordinance is very interesting because it has to do with caring for people's health and caring for the environment. We never received a response from the municipality about how this control is implemented.
Also at that time we made a presentation at Pluspetrol asking what was happening with this location, and the answer was an interview in which he was even the manager of Industrial Relations -or whatever it is called- of the company, and they told us that they presented the Studies of Environmental Impact (EIA) in the province, that the Municipality of Plottier did not ask them for an EIA and that for the first time they had asked for the claim we had made. These studies are verified by the one authorizing the drilling, which is a province, that is, the Directorate of the Environment.
Knowing this, we went to the Municipality, spoke with the Environment Director and asked him what he thought of this EIA that they had received. Griselda Mattio -who is the secretary of the Association- sat in front of the Environment director and said: Can you explain to me what this study means? (It's a bunch of sheets, with blueprints and technical terms.) What does it do and what does it stop doing in terms of environmental damage? And the director of Environment was thinking ... as if saying ...
N: Basic Chinese ...
A: Sure! He could not explain, because we are talking about a political official, without the technical capacity necessary to carry out the evaluation of an EIA.
To this day things have not improved but have worsened. Two years ago, as a result of a location in a farm, a neighbor filed claims, even by judicial means, because the [drilling] tower was 20 meters from their bedroom and this family could not sleep, the noise was driving them crazy . They made the judicial presentation, they made a presentation in the Municipality for the impact of the noise. And the municipal agent who was in charge of the inspection shows up at the location and says that the noise is not much. But what do you measure it with? The municipality does not have a decibelmeter. This as to show what is seen from the ground up, the easiest thing and what the Municipality could control, which is its jurisdiction.
What happens in the subsoil? And ... we cannot know, we can imagine that this perforation goes through the layers. The water tables in Plottier are very close to the surface, if we make a little one meter well we already have water, which is what is used to water the gardens, to irrigate the fields, because it has easy access.
N: When the mobilization for drilling began in front of this school, we went to speak with the director of the Hospital to see if there was any previous study to be able to do comparative studies of the health indices before and after these locations. There is also nothing, that is, there is no interest in controlling this. Salud has not done baseline studies to do comparative studies on malformations, loss of pregnancies or any type of incidence that could have any contamination. There is never anything to compare it to.
-Let it run (water you have to drink)
We left Los Hornos neighborhood and along Route 22 we headed west, to the place where the Plottier municipal commons ends and China Muerta begins -or vice versa-, to the thin gray line of the map, to the nebula of administrations.
A: This is school 301. It is a very small school in an area of small producers' farms and it is on the Aguada del Cajón field, which is concessioned to the Capex company -which extracts gas to start up a thermoelectric plant and also processes by-products.
The company has a primary processing of its waste, which then dumps into the drainage channel of the farms, which passes through here and empties into the river. The question about these wastes is who controls how safe they are and how well they have been treated. There are no measurements, at least that we know of, neither on the canal water nor on the contamination that occurs in the basin.
A long time ago in school it was observed that the water had a strange smell, let's say, the smell of kerosene, the smell of gasoline.
N: The water that was drunk and used came out of the underground waters.
A: This area of the town does not have potable water [from the network], not only the school but all the farmers in the area drink water from the napa.
As a result of observing that the water had that smell, through Aten a claim is made to the [Provincial] Council of Education and, I think it is the first time, they analyze the water that the boys drank. The school also had a garden, with that water they watered the vegetables and fruits that, of course, they consumed. And since then  the Board of Education provides bottled water, the boys drink water from cans.
-What result did these analyzes show?
N: Analyzes were made not looking for hydrocarbons but salts, sulfates in the water. Two analyzes were carried out, one carried out by the EPAS [Ente Provincial de Aguas] and the other by the Agua Pesada plant [of Arroyito], which is about 50 km to the west, and they gave some very high values, but no studies were done. on the presence of hydrocarbons.
Personally, I can tell you that I smelled the water that came out of the school pump and it smelled of kerosene, that image brought me.
-How was a water analysis requested?
N: Because the director of the school [Estela Goya] at that time [July 2007] made the observation, came to Aten, and like Aten, we made the complaint to the Council. We also went to the Deliberative Council and asked what controls they did when Capex was so close, and they answered us that the Municipality of Plottier does not control the Capex plant because it is outside the municipal commons.
At a certain moment, a committee of mothers was moved, a very important activity was carried out demanding the need for the children to have water that they could drink, free from any possibility of contamination. And an official of the Provincial Council of Education suggested that if they finally drank contaminated water at home, what made them drink contaminated water at school as well. Which deserved the repudiation of all of us who were present there, because this man was officially dealing with the subject. This somewhat marks the conduct of the provincial authorities regarding the care of these issues that we are dealing with.
-In fact, drinking water was provided to the school. Was there a solution for the rest of the community?
A: Nothing, it's like the school was an island that is the responsibility of the Provincial Council of Education, because the one that provides the water is the Provincial Council of Education. Your responsibility is only the school, who takes care of the population? Unfortunately, no one, neither the province nor the municipality. With this, it is not a municipal ejido of Plottier ... but people vote in Plottier, they have their domicile in Plottier or what, they reside in 'nothing'.
N: This channel aside, where the Capex plant discharges its effluents, is in Plottier. Here in front.
A: Across the street is Plottier.
N: We think that here, locally they would have to take care of themselves, but they wash their hands ...
-How many boys come to this school?
N: A hundred boys must have.
-What are the main productive activities in the area?
N: Small farms. They are basically family gardens, animals are raised and some strawberries, some cherries, stone plants. About 10 years ago these public lands were divided and plots of one hectare, one hectare and a half, two hectares were given to settlers who came to install themselves with a very great effort.
-Alicia, when we were coming here you told us that last year you found out, surprisingly, that the consumption of water from these pools no longer represents any health risk.
A: Yes, we came in November of last year with a journalist. The director was not there and the person in charge, with very good judgment, called her to ask if we could make a note. At that time, the director said that they had called her from the Provincial Council of Education and that they had told her by phone that she had nothing signed, that the water was ready to be used. But they kept sending him drums and, of course, he still handled himself with the drums.
-Was any work done that makes you think that the water supply problems have really been neutralized?
A: We have not observed any changes, but the problem is, as I said recently, who controls that the effluents are effectively treated well? The lack of control of the Municipality of Plottier is terrible. The municipality says: “We do not have a budget, we cannot create an apparatus that allows us to control; We don't have technicians, we don't have equipment ”, but they have an obligation to keep the population healthy.
And the province does nothing either. So we are in that if it is a municipal jurisdiction, if it is a provincial jurisdiction. It is Don Pirulero.
-The complaint was made in the Provincial Council of Education and from there the EPAS was given intervention to carry out the water study. When looking at the results of the analyzes, did it not occur to you in the EPAS that in addition to the school, neighboring residents could be affected? Was there no province directive?
A: There is nothing about groundwater. The groundwater in this province is unknown where it comes from, where it goes, who pollutes it, who does not pollute it; it is like a black hole. And since the water that reaches the school and the residents is not from the network, then you cannot intervene, suppose, from the Deliberative Council against the Water Cooperative that provides the service. Nobody here provides them with water service, they take it out of the subsoil and since there is no survey of water resources, it is as if it does not belong to anyone. "I was not", "Me neither", nobody is to blame, nobody is responsible.
N: The EPAS in this case did the studies based on what they asked. He came, drew from a pair of school faucets, and did the study on those samples. Logically, the EPAS technician is dedicated to that, the political decision of the EPAS should have been: “Well, this was in the taps of the school. What happens in the surroundings? That political decision was never taken, nor will it be made in this province where the oil companies are really in charge.
-What is the main destination of the production? Where is it consumed?
N: A part of the strawberries and strawberry seedlings are sold abroad and a part of the strawberries is exported, but mainly consumed in the domestic market.
-So the people of Plottier and surroundings consume these productions that are watered with water that was considered unhealthy at school?
A: Sure. We think that this contamination exists throughout the water. We have no evidence, we have not gotten anyone to come and do a drilling, to do something scientifically armed so that we can say, with 100% certainty, that the water that is extracted is the water of the napa and that the contamination comes from the batt and does not come from the pipe, etc. It is very difficult to access studies of this type, where the taking of samples should be supervised by a notary public and should be done by an official entity.
N: The State would have to do it, but it is not politically interested in doing it.
A: We make the claim, we request each one from his place, we inform the population - because if the neighbors do not know that they are drinking contaminated water, they can hardly make a claim. This came out because the director smelled the water, but in the houses it must be the same, and this has happened many years ago. It's like you get used to things that happen to you.
That canal carries water to the river. The water intake from which Plottier is supplied is downstream, where they kill the bugs with chlorine and nothing else, all the chemical contamination persists. Because everything that comes out through the irrigation canal is also the waste from the farm that brings all the pesticide that fell to the ground. Everything goes to the river, it is taken through the water treatment plant and it comes to our homes.
So, as there is no control of any kind, and as the water treatment plant does not have the technology to filter all these pollutants, these pollutants return to you, they come out of the tap from where we all take the water.
Again we take Route 22 now in the opposite direction, towards the East, towards Neuquén Capital. We parked near some malls and again the same panorama.
-What did you show us before we started recording?
N: Elementary school 234, is the same case as school 266. Across the street there is another oil location, practically in front of the school. Also in this school the oil company came to do CSR tasks with the students to buy the will of the parents and dismantle the movement that was being put together in the sense of why this location was being built.
-Did Pluspetrol do the drilling in front of the school during the school year?
N: Yes, within the school year.
-How long does it take to make the piercing?
N: It takes 30-60 days, it depends. In this case, the person in charge of the deposit is Pluspetrol but the one that drills is a contractor, in this case it was Pride.
-Are the CSR ‘jobs’ aimed only at schools and health rooms neighboring the site or at those in the entire town?
N: I have not registered that they have done it in other schools, more central, I remember these cases because it is where we were performing.
A: In 106 they also brought the trailer.
N: But it is also an area that is within the deposit.
A: They don't necessarily go to schools that have a well in front of them, but they are schools in peripheral areas where there is obviously a need for glasses, shoes, oral and dental control, where the neighbors do not have social work ...
-They go to schools and the community in general based on complaints.
N: No, no, everything is arranged from the Provincial Council of Education. They sign agreements with the Provincial Council of Education.
-Do they come to the schools as soon as they begin to drill the well or previously?
N: The oil companies plan, when they know that they are going to touch sensitive areas, they prepare a plan in advance, they do not improvise anything in this regard.
-Then the two movements occur together, on the one hand work in the community and on the other hand drilling.
N: And, they finished doing this and they never showed up again.
A: In an EIA you have positive impacts / negative impacts. As the negative impacts cannot change them, what is the way to balance so that the environmental impact gives you levels that allow you to exploit? You have to buy green! And in what way? With a social work, with different training workshops for students, from educational talks about where oil is obtained, what it is for, how the exploitation is done to this part that has to do with healthcare: medical offices, dental offices , provide glasses, medications. They cover the social need of schools that do not have computers, that need books ... In this way they obtain a positive score that makes the environmental impact derived from exploitation or drilling that makes the environmental impact of levels that allows you to operate .
Southern Petroleum Observatory - OPS - http://opsur.wordpress.com
Chiaroscuros Neuquinos: The Guanacos of the West (PAHO, 12/16/08)
In Neuquén the oil companies go to school (Teaching Tribune No. 70, 05/06)
Neighbors ask for studies for oil drilling (Río Negro, 01/15/05)
In a school, the water comes out smelling of fuel (Río Negro, 08/26/07)