UN Spotlight on Impacts of Argentina’s Vaca Muerta Fracking Project on Indigenous Rights and Climate Change

Groups challenge unconventional fossil fuel extraction in Vaca Muerta megaproject


October 10, 2017

(Buenos Aires/Neuquén/Geneva – October 10, 2017) — A report presented to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) highlights the adverse economic, social, and cultural rights impacts of fossil fuel extraction at the Vaca Muerta shale formation in Argentina on local residents and indigenous Mapuche communities. It also highlights the project’s massive contributions to climate change. If the Argentinian government’s plans for large-scale exploitation of the Vaca Muerta shale formation come to fruition, the country will significantly increase its greenhouse gas emissions and undermine the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement.

In addition, the report refers to the situation of Campo Maripe, a community located 10 kilometers from the city of Añelo, where territory was granted to YPF and Chevron in 2013. To date, more than 500 wells have been used for hydraulic fracturing in the area. The technique, also known as fracking, has been banned in multiple countries, including France and Scotland, for its adverse effects on the environment and health.

The document was written by Observatorio Petrolero Sur (OPSur) of Argentina with international organizations the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Global Initiative). The report was endorsed by 53 organizations operating in Argentina and Latin America.

“The report comes at a moment when violence against local communities has increased in order to advance business, reminiscent of the 2013 police repression of peaceful protest,” says Diego di Risio, coordinator for OPSur. “In just a few years, fracking activity has moved into the communities. Wells have multiplied in neighborhoods and farmlands without any sort of control.”

“It is the responsibility of the Argentinian government to implement policies that comply with the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement to which the country is a party — especially as Argentina steps into the presidency of the G20,” says Sébastien Duyck, Senior Attorney at CIEL. “Under international human rights agreements that the country has ratified, the government must prevent fossil fuel companies from violating of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.”

“Argentina’s oil and gas development in Vaca Muerta is trampling on the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Neuquén province, polluting the environment, and impacting the health, water, housing, and cultural rights of these people, without effective consultation or obtaining their prior consent to the development,” says Lucy McKernan, Geneva Representative for the Global Initiative.

The three organizations request that the Committee require the government of Argentina to provide additional information on two sets of issues related to its fossil fuel development in Vaca Muerta. First, Argentina should demonstrate the compatibility of fossil fuel extraction, particularly in the Vaca Muerta shale formation, with Argentina’s international commitments to mitigate and adapt to climate change under the Paris Agreement. Second, the government must actually guarantee the rights of local communities and indigenous peoples that live in areas where fossil fuels are extracted through hydraulic fracturing.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights is a committee of human rights experts established in 1985 to monitor the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The Committee will release a List of Issues later this month to which the government of Argentina must respond prior to the full review of the country’s obligations next year. The organizations submitting the request hope that this List of Issues will include references to the concerns raised around the Vaca Muerta shale formation.


Notes to editors:

Important passages from the report:

“The extraction of fossil fuels in the Vaca Muerta formation would contribute significantly to the global increase of emissions and would reduce the likelihood that global fossil fuel emissions remain within the carbon budgets suggested by scientists to avoid the most severe climate impacts. The development of reserves such as Vaca Muerta is consequently inconsistent with Argentina’s obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights protected under the Covenant [ICESCR]. Therefore, to the extent that Argentina’s energy policies continue to support fossil fuel extraction, they are inconsistent with tackling climate change and with the protection of ICESCR rights.”

“The development of the oil and gas industry in Vaca Muerta has proceeded on the basis of repeated violations of the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples – a right that is guaranteed under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and under the ILO [International Labour Organization] Convention 169, ratified by Argentina in 2000. The failure to respect the FPIC of indigenous peoples on whose lands infrastructure is being established has led to a conflict with many indigenous communities – for instance with the indigenous Mapuche community of Campo Maripe.”


Observatorio Petrolero Sur (OPSur)

Through research, advocacy and training OPSur seeks to strengthen democratic and fair pathways for energy and development. Under a rights-based approach, it has been working to raise awareness of Vaca Muerta developments since 2011.

Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)

Since 1989, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has used the power of law to protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society.

Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR)

GIESCR is an international non-governmental human rights organization which seeks to advance the realization of economic, social and cultural rights throughout the world, tackling the endemic problem of global poverty through a human rights lens.

Spanish Version