The Mapuches Push Back
Chevron's principal extraction technique in Patagonia is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the same technique that has come under heavy fire in the United States and Europe for its severe ecological risks.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Argentina now is home to the world's third-largest potential reserves of unconventional gas, with a potential 774 trillion cubic feet, behind only to China with 1.28 trillion cubic feet and the United States with 862 trillion cubic feet. Fracking is considered key to unlocking the huge deposits.
Chevron has aggressively expanded the use of fracking throughout the ancestral homelands of the Mapuche peoples, who primarily inhabit the arid steppes in the eastern slopes of the Andes mountains. The Mapuches have ardently resisted the expansion of drilling in their lands, saying it will cause irreversible environmental and social damage.
But recent gas discoveries are likely to expand these conflicts. In 2010, huge shale gas reserves were found at Loma de la Lata in southern Neuquen province, and Other finds have been made in other Mapuche traditional homelands, including Rio Negro and Chubut provinces. Chevron rushed right into the midst, acquiring new drilling contracts right and left.
According to the Neuquen Observatory on Indigenous Peoples' Rights, there are 59 Mapuche communities in the region, 19 of which are affected by the oil industry or on the radar of companies looking to expand exploration.
Even though Argentina has ratified Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization on indigenous peoples, one of whose main points is that indigenous groups must be consulted about any major projects in their territories must have granted their explicit consent, the state has not ensured this.
Protests have erupted again and again in 2011 and 2012, and Mapuches have filed suit to halt Chevron's drilling expansion in Neuquen.
Chevron's Properties in Argentina
Chevron is the fourth-largest oil producer in Argentina. In the Neuquén Basin, it has interests in El Trapial Field. In 2011, Chevron's total daily production in Argentina averaged 35,000 barrels of crude oil and 6 million cubic feet of natural gas. The company also has a 14 percent interest in the Oleoductos del Valle S.A. pipeline that carries crude oil from Neuquén to Buenos Aires.