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Opinion | Natural Resources | Cataluña


Catalonia: truths and lies about the ‘Ripoll’ licence for hydrocarbon extraction

Llorenç Planagumà | Alba Sud / CST

The company Teredo Oil wants to salvage its hydrocarbon research and exploitation licences. But, scientists say that there are no geological ‘reservoirs in the subsoil that could act as oil deposits.

Photography by: Signing of the Bover Pact against Fracking by the political parties CUP, ICV-EUiA, ERC, PSC, CiU and Ciutadans on 08/02/2013.

The fight to prevent the company Teredo Oil Limited from trying to extract gas and oil using fracking – or hydraulic fracturing – methods from the area around Riudaura, Catalonia, began in October 2012. After having its licences revoked due to its failure to meet certain terms, the company is now trying to re-activate these licences and is continuing to try and convince local people that the gas and oil extracted will make them rich. The company is holding meetings with local mayors and is attempting to generate as much press coverage as possible. From a strictly scientifically and technical point of view, we categorically reject the company’s claims and the business strategy that is the company is using to try and justify them.

The revoked licence giving permission to exploit the so-called ‘Ripoll’ hydrocarbon exploitation gave the green light to the company Teredo Oils Limited to investigate the subsoil of an area of 51,200 ha in the counties of La Garrotxa, Osona and El Ripollès as a prelude to future oil and gas extraction. However, the county of La Garrotxa has opted to promote a local sustainable economy, which in my opinion is totally incompatible with an economy based on the extraction of natural resources. Many questions remain to be answered. As a geologist and scientific communicator, I have talked to many experts in the subject, from industrial engineers specializing in hydraulic fracturing to mining engineers, chemists, geologists and so forth. Their ideas have enabled me to separate the truth from the lies regarding the Ripoll hydrocarbon licence.

Are there hydrocarbons in this area? The answer is yes and, more specifically, they are to be found in the Armancies geological formation, composed of marls and other similar rocks that were deposited in a marine basin 40 million years ago. At their base there are a number of layers that contain organic material in the form of oil; these layers are what we geologists call the ‘mother rock’. The migration of these hydrocarbon deposits to other, more permeable layers would lead to the formation of the famous ‘reservoirs’ of oil, which explains why in the 1960s oil exploration took place in this region. But no viable oil reserves were found, only gas around Riudaura and a little oil near Vallfogona. These deposits – or ‘oil mines’ – were known to the Romans, who extracted up to 40–70 litres per ton of rock

Are there enough hydrocarbons to make extraction viable? The answer is no. Scientists affirm that there is no geological ‘reservoir’ in the subsoil in which oil could accumulate after migrating from the mother rock (Armancies Formation). There are some indications that hydrocarbon migration took place from the mother rock via fractures and joints to higher layers during the formation of the Pyrenees; however, this oil would have been lost. Today, the waters of a few natural springs in the area do in fact contain small amounts of hydrocarbons.

Why do they talk about extracting 30,000 barrels a day of oil? This figure is based on a data analysis generated by research carried out at the beginning of 2000 by a subsidiary company of CEPSA. The problem lies in the errors in the calculation of the accumulation of hydrocarbons in theArmancies Formation, and their possible migration. These errors apply to both the possible volume of hydrocarbons in the ‘reservoirs’ and to the quantity that could be extracted from the mother rock using fracturing methods. Specifically, the data from the CEPSA subsidiary company exaggerate greatly the volume of rock in which hydrocarbons could be present. It is worth adding that, given that the rocks in this area are highly folded and fractured, it would be highly difficult to extract a constant amount of oil and the costs of this technique, whose viability is already under question, would undoubtedly be very high. Finally, the possibility of an environmental disaster is also greater in an area with strata of this nature.

What are the true interests that lie behind this affair? Experts have explained to us that this affair hides an attempt at speculation. It is hard to understand why any company would want to invest in such a risky project. The real aim, however, is to be granted a licence to carry out apparently successful trials so that the project can be sold to larger companies at a later date.

Where does this leave the region?  The whole affair is very worrying, whether fracking is used or not. The only certainty is that the region as a whole will lose out. We need all the possible information placed rigorously at our disposal so that we can decide what we want to do. But, for as long as we have the possibility that this licence will be granted hanging over us it is unlikely that other types of investment linked to sustainable territorial development – for example, certain types of tourism – will be forthcoming. The region’s economic strategy must be defined and agreed upon as quickly as possible. In my opinion, extractive activities of this nature are not compatible with natural areas and appropriate socio-economic models. Today, true progress is knowing how to generate economic benefits without leaving your region in ruins.

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