Basque Country camp to fight against fracking

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Basque Country camp to fight against fracking

Campaigners from across Europe come together to fight against fracking. Claire Fauset reports.


In October 2013, 13,000 people supported Fracking Ez’s demonstration in Gasteiz

Tourists think of Spain as dry and sunny, but the Basque Cantabrian basin in the north is cool, rainy and green. I drove through the vineyards of Rioja Alavesa to give a talk in a village threatened by fracking. The Spanish government say that these Rioja vineyards and the green hills are on shale that could produce 185,000 million cubic metres of natural gas.

Above the gas is the water source for the whole area – the 170-km2 'Subijana aquifer'. Local politicians Dani Maeztu and Igor Lopez de Munain think the fracking would make holes in the aquifer more than 1,000 times to get all the gas the industry says they will get. The aquifer is 300 metres deep. So they say it is not possible to do this without putting poisons in the water.

Before 2013, in the United States, there were at least 2 million hydraulic fracking oil and gas wells. This is 43 per cent of the country’s oil production and 67 per cent of its natural gas production.

Fracking is quite a new way of getting out natural gas from shale and other similar rocks. They have to drill vertically about 2 kilometres downwards, then horizontally, using new drilling techniques. Then comes the ‘hydraulic fracturing’ or ‘fracking’. They inject water (with a mixture of chemicals) at very high pressure to break the rock, so the gas comes out.

There were a lot of very bad effects from getting out so much shale gas: contamination of water in the ground, air pollution, neuro-toxin poisoning, noise pollution, sinkholes and even earthquakes. Also it releases a lot of methane. Studies show that this means fracking produces more greenhouse-gas emissions than coal.

The oil and gas industry wants more fracking around the world. But there are a lot of groups fighting against this in most countries, especially in Europe, Africa and Latin America. And in the Basque Country.

Lucky meeting

Mikel Otero (a firefighter from the Basque anti-fracking group Fracking Ez) met an important government minister by chance.

This made him decide to fight against fracking.

Mikel discovered the plans to frack in the Basque Country in 2011. The former Basque Prime Minister, Patxi Lopez (who had just visited Texas) said on TV that he had agreed with two US companies to start fracking in 2012.

‘In the winter of 2011 we started seeing these notices in the newspaper and we thought it was strange. Then we started having meetings and painting “Stop Fracking” around the city.’


Fracking Ez protesting in the 170km2 Subiljana Aquifer to show how dangerous fracking is to Basque Country’s biggest water resource.

They got more worried when they found out more about the effects of fracking in the US.

Mikel went to the Ministry of Industry in Madrid to find out more.

By chance, he went to the office of the Director of the Department of Hydrocarbons. The minister agreed to meet Mikel for 10 minutes. Maybe she wanted her department to look good.

He was there for two hours.

‘I was surprised because an important person in the administration was talking to me and listening to me. But she told me we should be very careful about what are we doing. Because often, the economic development of the country is stopped by people protesting against high-technology development. Then I decided to be at the front of this fight.’

Radical discussion, radical action

Fracking Ez (‘No Fracking’ in Euskara, the Basque language), and other groups from Cantabria and Burgos, started their plans to fight.

The Basque Country has a strong tradition of leftwing politics and social campaigns. 13,000 people came to protest in 2013 in the small city of Gasteiz, in the centre of the area where there are plans for fracking.


The Frackanpada international protest camp: 13-19 July.

Also in 2013, the Cantabrian assembly got a lot of support and banned fracking in this very conservative region. Other Spanish regions banned fracking too. But the constitutional court in Madrid cancelled these bans. It shows that local people have strong feelings about fracking.

The history of the Basque Country includes lots of other fights against bad ideas for land development by the government. In the 1970s, the anti-nuclear groups stopped the building of 5 nuclear power stations along the Basque coast. So there is no nuclear power in the country.

In the early 1990s, they started fighting against the high-speed train line going through the Basque countryside. This would not benefit local people.

Mikel says he is excited. The anti-fracking fight is one of the first times he has been involved with a lot of different people. And people are starting to talk about the energy system.

‘There are people of many ages, people from the villages and people from the city; and people with different politics. It is exciting when you go to the villages and talk with all kinds of people about fracking, and about the problems with our energy system and how much energy we use. Everybody agrees that it is crazy and many things must change. Even if everyone agrees, it is still not clear how we are going to change these systems, so fracking is a good point to start to discuss this.’

The latest project is a ‘Frackanpada’. This is an international anti-fracking camp, 13-19 July, to bring together the anti-fracking movement across Europe. It will be a week of talking, planning, concerts and anti-fracking action.

The camp will be at an old water well. It is next to the place where the companies are planning to drill and frack, just above the water aquifer.

The local people want to show how strongly they will fight the companies if they continue their plans to frack here.

The camp is working with anti-fracking groups across Europe (including Reclaim the Power in Britain). They want to link the problem of fracking to other fights about land development. They want to fight against the economic system that does not value life, and to create visions of a better world.

‘It’s going to be crazy – ideas, experiences and skills... I still don’t know exactly what is going to happen there, but I know great things are going to come out of it,’ says Mikel.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).