In a Facebook post titled, “A story of my
odyssey through Vaca Muerta,” Stefan
Borghardt accused the police in Neuquén
province of physical violence and the confiscation of his equipment on January 7,
after he was caught taking pictures at a
facility owned by waste management firm
Treater Neuquén, which has been contracted by firms including Shell, Total, Exxon,
Pan American Energy (a subsidiary of BP),
and the state-owned firm YPF.
Borghardt, 28, was photographing waste dumps containing oil and industrial
waste from the exploration and production of oil and natural gas from the Vaca
Muerta shale formation.
According to Borghardt, he was apprehended by private security personnel in
the vicinity of Treater’s lot 56, near Añelo
municipality. Using two professional cameras and his phone, Borghardt took several pictures of open waste pits.
According to local police, Borghardt had
trespassed onto Treater’s property, giving
them reason to detain him. He was taken
to the Precinct 10 police station, where he
identified himself using his passport.
That’s when things get a little messy. On
his way to the police station, Borghardt
claims he was told to delete the images,
while a police officer took his phone and
read personal messages and voice recordings. Once in the station, he identified
himself as a journalist, providing accreditation, but nevertheless Borghardt says his
cameras were confiscated and he was asked to hastily sign documentation.
After refusing, claims Borghardt, police
officers locked him up in a cell. “They hit
me, kicked me, and one officer harassed
me with a broom telling me from a distance that he hated Germans. Another officer
insisted that I hurry up taking my shoelaces off, noting he could help me while
pulling out a pocket knife to intimidate
me,” he wrote.
More than four hours later, the photographer was released, but the cameras
remained under police custody.
The situation escalated to the point where provincial authorities and the German
Embassy in Argentina have now become
involved. Mariano Gaido, a minister responsible for labour, social development,
and security, has personally requested “a
full report” from Commissioner Rubén
Tissier, Neuquén’s ranking policy officer.
“I have absolute respect for the labour
of journalists and what this means in terms
of the distribution of information,” he told
local daily Diario Río Negro, “I want to
make sure all information is available for
anyone who seeks it.”
Although the firm asked police to guarantee that Borghardt’s pictures remain
unpublished, the young photographer
took to Facebook to post four of them
independently showing the current state
of the open pit pools. Treater was already
in the hot seat after a Greenpeace investigation alleged the dumps were creating
hazardous conditions for the environment and people living there.
“Greenpeace Andino researchers took
samples of soil and sludge from locations
around the cities of Añelo and Neuquén,
including from the Treater waste facility,
revealing dangerous amounts of hydrocarbon chemicals and volatile organic
components,” the NGO said in a report.