Our olive groves have one fright after another. Turns out that the major threat to olive groves is not the expansion of Chinese crops, the Moroccan production, the low prices or the Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
The major olive grove’s problem can already be seen in the horizon and it is much more serious than the ones above mentioned. This threat is the fracking – also called hydraulic fracturing-. We better get use to this technique’s name and to the name of the company who pretends to launch it: Oil & Gas Capital, Ltd.
This technique is based on the extraction of natural gas by the drilling of a well, first vertically and then turns and continues horizontally. A mix of water and sand is pumped into the well at high pressure together with almost 400 different chemicals. These wells reach depths of around 2,000 and 3,000 meters but they could even reach 5,000 meters depth.
The slate breaks and allows the release of natural gas. According to a report of the European Parliament, among the substances which are injected we can find toxic, allergenic, mutagenic and carcinogenic substances—damaging substances that the United States companies have done their utmost for not having to declare them—.
More than one would be asking him or herself: so, how does this affect the olive groves? Well, I will explain myself:
The Oil & Gas Capital, Ltd. Company has applied and granted many permits prior to the exploitation of gas in the province of Jaén by means of this technique.
I will focus on the case of the Jurassic aquifer of Úbeda, a huge carbonated and highly fractured aquifer that meets all requirements for bearing the brunt of all the negative impacts this technique may cause.
The aquifer of Úbeda is a great example of this situation which may be extended to aquifers all around the province and that will affect the main production areas of the province —some of the most important municipalities like Úbeda, Baeza or Villacarrillo.
The area of Úbeda sits over a huge aquifer which covers about 20,000 square kilometers. This aquifer — where there are around 300 wells— irrigates 20.000 hectares of olive groves. There is also another small aquifer over it that recharges the aquifer of Úbeda and which is connected to it due to the huge amount of drilled wells.
The Oil & Gas Capital, Ltd. Company has applied for a range of permits in the province. Two of them—the Ulises 2, which is in force, and the Himicle 3, for which the company has applied— will have a negative effect on the aquifer in its south-western end.
If wells would be drilled in this area and it would be done by means of this fracking technique, the aquifer may be seriously harmed. A priori and depending on the flow directions of the aquifer it may become polluted:
- The aquifer itself, that taking into account both confined and unconfined parts, it amounts up to 880 km2.
- The Guadalimar river. Linked to the aquifer and a natural water discharge.
- The Giribaile reservoir that collects water from Guadalimar river and that is in direct contact with the aquifer.
- The Lower Guadalquivir, as the Guadalimar river is its main tributary.
- The carbonated surface of the area of Beas de Segura —as according to many authors it may be connected to the aquifer.
- The Miocene aquifer of Úbeda. On the exploration surface and connected through wells with the deeper carbonated aquifer.
The pollution of the aquifer would be more likely due to its high permeability, the intense fracturing it is subjected to and its great depth. The deepest well from which I have heard is 770 meters depth.
In addition, the last researches carried out through seismic, mechanical and vertical electric explorations have located a range of fault throws around 30 and 100 meters deep that affect the aquifer and its underlying unit which may reach the depth where fracking exploitation is expected to take place.
These faults may connect the highly polluted exploitation area to the aquifer and, at the same time, the aquifer itself connects to the Guadalimar river, the Miocene aquifer of Úbeda and even to the aquifer of the Natural Park.
Another harmful effect may be the increasement of the seismic activity in the area — area which is already highly damaged—. Nowadays there are 3 main regional mapped faults, apart from those of smaller size. These faults affect the deeper materials and, as a consequence of the lubrication originated by the fluid injection, the faults may reactivate.
In addition, seismicity may also increase due to these injections, the hydraulic fracking and the explosions—apart from the sharp changes of water levels.
Current authors think that among earthquake possible triggering causes an important factor to take into consideration is the action of water—both in the aquifer and in its underlying and overlying units. This water may have caused new fractures or the faults reactivation.
Another effect that may increase the seismicity in the area would be the dissolution of a vast quantity of evaporites from the geological unit existing under the aquifer. This is due to the contribution of a huge amount of water for exploitation which may go through the fractures from the lower levels and that may cause collapses or diapir movements— which would intensify the number of earthquakes.
We will found therefore pollution spreading across a great part of the province due to both surface and ground water pollution.
We could hardly publicize our olive groves and olive oil as a great product if those have been watered with highly polluted waters. This polluted water in one of the main growing areas in the province will create negative publicizing.
Also the Natural Park of Cazorla, Segura and las Villas would be harmed if this pollution reaches it, as well as the slogan of the province “Jaén, paraíso interior” (“Jaén, inner paradise”.)
If there is still someone supporting this technique I must say that not even the generation of employment is a valid the pretext since the average life expectancy of the wells is around 5 or 6 years and the companies exploiting them would presumably hire workers already trained in Texas or Oklahoma, for example. This situation will end up with an area useless for its original purposes.
By writing this blog, even if just a few people read it, I would like to encourage this sector to do some research on the topic and on this fast coming threat which some agrarian organizations, such as UPA (small-scale livestock owners and farmers’ association) or COAG (coordinator of livestock owners and farmer’s associations), have already reported. Moreover I also want to encourage the affected towns to follow the lead of Torreperogil and declare themselves as “Fracking free towns”.
Repsol Investigaciones petrolíferas S.A. Company has ceased in the permit it had applied for due to the allegations made by the House of Alba for harming their interests. There must be a reason…
However, the local government of Úbeda, town which will have their ground water affected, has belittled declaring the town as “Fracking free” because of the votes against from the two largest parties.
I hope they will realize their own mistake and that our tree, which is the sacred tree of Athena, triumphs once more and that our politicians, even if it is by seeing the name Ulysses (Ulises) in the permits, they will not follow the siren’s songs. Our future relies on it.
I would like to express our gratitude to Mss. Ana Vacas Vegas, degree in Translation and Interpretation from the University of Granada, who helped us to translate this article into English.
P.S. It would be much appreciated if copies or reproductions by any procedure and in any form of the posts of this blog are made as long as it is visible the web page of origin and its web address: aceitunayaceite.wordpress.com. Thanks a lot for reading.