Protests against Chevron highlight Argentine energy woes

Economist Bernard Weinstein, of SMU's Cox School of Business, talks about environmental protests in Argentina in light of the country's plans to tap its shale reserves.

By Jonathan Gilbert

Buenos Aires - Activists in southern Argentina are threatening to intensify protests against a deal struck between state-run energy firm YPF and international oil giant Chevron.

Lawmakers in Neuquén province approved the $1.2 billion pact last week amid violent protests outside the provincial legislature, where police fired rubber bullets at around 5,000 anti-fracking demonstrators. Mapuche natives also blockaded a YPF plant, and one of the community’s leaders said Monday that “We’re not ruling out further action.”

 Opposition to developing the Vaca Muerta in southwest Argentina – one of the world’s largest nonconventional hydrocarbon deposits – reflects similar clashes across Argentina. Energy and mining projects, often foreign investment-led, are frequently resisted by environmental, social, and political movements here.
These battles arise “one after the other” – from protests against nuclear power to hydroelectric dams – because President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government has never outlined its long-term strategy for the energy sector, says Juan Carlos Villalonga, president of Los Verdes, an environmental organization....

But some say it is impossible for Argentina to meet its energy needs with renewables alone. The country’s economy has expanded at an average rate of 7.2 percent a year from 2003 to 2012. As a result, “Environmentalists need a dose of reality," says Bud Weinstein, an associate director at the Maguire Energy institute in Dallas.

“If your economy grows, there’s higher energy consumption,” says Mr. Weinstein, in Buenos Aires for a conference on the Vaca Muerta. “Renewables on their own cannot do the trick. You need baseload power.”...