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Opinion | Natural Resources


Riudaura: capital of the fight against fracking

Llorenç Planagumà | CST / Alba Sud

In October 2012 the Catalan government granted a licence for oil and gas prospection to a multinational company who planned to carry out tests near the village of Riudaura (Catalonia). The outcry and popular pressure obliged the government to withdraw the licence on 15 March.

Photography by: Blanca Gomez, president of the Riudaura PAF.

History has shown us all too often that there are no lost people or lost causes. In December 2012, a small village situated in northern Catalonia woke up to fact that something had to change and that no one, nowhere in the world, can totally divorce themselves from the fact that the world’s resources are concentrated in just a few hands and at any cost. Riudaura was able to learn for itself how process works thanks to a debate on fracking – an extractive technique with a high risk of causing serious environmental problems such as the contamination of groundwater, visual impact on the landscape and noise – that arose out of an attempt to impose an extractive economic activity on a rural area of great natural interest.

There is no sense to it. Our society, whose economic development is based on growth fuelled by the construction of infrastructures and the exaggerated extraction and consumption of resources, is reaching a turning point, of which the case of Riudaura provides ample evidence. Riudaura has woken up and is now fighting to get fracking banned in Catalonia and Spain, and to get the European Union to regulate this damaging technique in light of the environmental problems it generates.

Riudaura has woken up to the fact that, to solve their problem, it must not only stop the licence granted for work near the village – as they have already done – but must also demand that this technique be banned throughout the Spanish State. This means that political leaders must start to debate what type of energetic model we want in order to prevent the country plunging even deeper into the energy cul-de-sac that we have already entered. Today, we have reached a historical turning point: do we want to continue following this unjust, unequal model, which squeezes out the last drop of the country’s natural and human resource to satisfy the needs of a few? Or do we want a sustainable model that is shared by all, in which everybody has a part to play and no one has to suffer? Will we put up with environmental misery, economic woe and social grief? Few activities reflect human greed better than fracking: a system of extraction of poor economic viability but of great social and environmental impact. About 50% of the hydrocarbons that are produced by the perforations (gas or oil) are extracted during the first year — an ephemeral extractive activity if ever there was one!

The most important lesson to be learnt from this affair is that once a town or region becomes aware of a possible threat, it must mobilize and oblige its elected representatives to act in favour of the general interest and not only that of big business. One possible way for Riudaura would have been to defend the village and then, after the victory is achieved, to sit back and wait for the good times to return. Yet, intuition tells us that no one is safe from this fever that has engulfed us and that we must work to change the whole model. This will only happen if local people take charge of their own political destinies. This was the strategy followed in Riudaura: compel those that should be working for the country to do so. Thus, Riudaura wants more than just the satisfaction of having formed a social and political majority in and around the village whose aim is to stop fracking in Catalonia; it also wants to stop fracking throughout the Spanish State. Now is the time to work to find partnerships and alliances. Riudaura has learnt that the only solution to this problem is to take the struggle beyond the bounds of the village — more Riudauras will appear that will stand up to a system that allows the will of local people to be ignored. Now is the time for politics with a capital ‘P’ — we can’t allow the powers-to-be to continue defying the ideas of the people that elected them. If necessary, we will continue demanding solutions day after day, and we will go without sleep to make sure that those who govern us care for all of us and bear us all in mind when taking decisions. No one should be left by the wayside and our land must be kept safe and sound and in good hands. Riudaura has realized that politics is the key to everything and that it must be tackled in a ‘bottom-up’ fashion.

This idea of social pressure used to achieve objectives is a sign of democratic maturity. Those in power, i.e. the powerful lobbies and interest groups, have money at their disposal but do not have any popular powerbase. It is a straight fight between the 1% who have 99% of the world’s economic resources and the 99% who only possess 1% of its resources. The results of this struggle will become visible in political decisions. The ‘Battle of Riudaura’ is a good example and in this case the 99% won a tactical victory. The conflict arose out of a couple of absurdities: one, the stupidity of the idea of fracking and all that it signifies, the other, the way in which local people were ignored when it came to deciding questions that affected them — almost as if we were too immature to decide for ourselves even with all the relevant information at our disposal. How many of the recent cutbacks have been decided upon after popular consultation? Was it really necessary to rescue the banks? Why was no popular debate carried out? Likewise, it is inadmissible to impose an extractive activity on a territory without first analysing its viability, its interest and then consulting local opinion once all the pertinent information is available. It is our obligation to wake up and demand our rights; the democracy that has so carefully got us under its control is morally in debt to us. The Riudaura way is, like other cases that are appearing, the best way to attempt to win back what is ours, that is, the right to decide, the right to demand that legitimacy comes from the people who vote and that those who govern have to win this legitimacy every day of the week and not just at election time. Leadership, just like respect, is won rather than given.

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