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ECONOMY | 22-12-2018 10:47

Mapuche group files lawsuit against multinationals over pollution from Vaca Muerta

A Mapuche group living in Patagonia has announced they are taking some of the world’s biggest oil and gas multinationals to court for “environmental contamination” in a region close to the Vaca Muerta region.

The Mapuche are suing US giant Exxon, French company Total and the Argentina-based Pan American Energy, which is part owned by BP, the Greenpeace NGO confirmed this week. Two more local oil and gas companies – state-run giant YPF SA and Pampa Energia – are also named in the lawsuit, along with local Neuquén province authorities and Treater Neuquén SA, a local company operating a treatment plant for fracking waste.

The Neuquén Mapuche Confederation accuses the oil and gas companies of harming the environment with “dangerous waste” due to “deficient treatment” close to the town of Añelo, some 1,200km south of the capital.

“It’s quite a sensitive situation,” Martín Álvarez, an expert with the Observatorio Petrolero Sur charity that monitors energy use, told the AFP bnews agency. “It’s affecting the inhabitants of popular neighbourhoods because the waste treatment plants are too close.”

Following an investigation, Greenpeace published a report in which it accused Total and British-Dutch group Shell – which does not figure in the Mapuche lawsuit – of dumping “highly toxic oily sludge waste.”

It claimed that the residue from fracking for shale gas “is being tipped in illegal waste dumps, causing massive pollution that threatens wildlife and human health” in Patagonia.

The waste comes from exploitation of the Vaca Muerta site in Neuquén, one of the biggest shale-oil and shale-gas deposits in the world.

Greenpeace said it found the dumps in November last year and started taking samples from them in May. It said it had tracked trucks dumping waste to two sites, one linked to Shell and the other to Total.

The dumps, including one which has grown to the size of “almost 15 football fields,” are located just three miles from Añelo, the NGO said.

While Shell is not named in the lawsuit, it signed a deal in 2017 with YPF to develop oil and gas assets in the Vaca Muerta shale field, a site of some 11,600 square miles.

A Pan American Energy spokesman told AFP that its name featured in the lawsuit by mistake as it doesn’t have a contract with Treater, which operates the waste plants. On its website, Treater identifies Pan American Energy – whose other partner, local company Bridas, is 50 percent owned by Chinese giant CNOOC – as one of its clients.

Total said Tuesday it would ask Treater, its subcontractor, to provide “complementary verifications” it was acting in accordance with its contract with the Argentine firm.

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