Sunday, November 2, 2014

Venezuela Goes Nuclear over Fracking

Last week, President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela came out swinging against the United States' use of fracking in extracting natural gas from rocks in the United States.
Oil spills and slicks on Lake Maricaibo--one of the most
polluted lakes in the world.  Click for photo credit.

What is ironic about this statement is that Venezuela's own environmental record is one of the worst in Latin America.  Last week, while Maduro was speaking on the issue, a large oil spill occurred off the coast of Venezuela.  It wasn't reported in the country's tightly controlled media, but it did make it to Twitter and some online publications.  It's doubtful that the government will deal with the issue effectively.  Why?  The country eliminated the environment ministry this year.

Plus, Venezuela has done little to try to reduce greenhouse gas production in its own country.  It sells gas for about a penny a gallon.  That might sound fantastic, but when gas is so cheap, it promotes a black market (largely run by corrupt military types and local mafia figures) with foreign countries.  Due to bad handling and storage procedures, there is a great deal of groundwater and surface water pollution.  Plus, the production of oil in Venezuela, one of the most oil-rich and corrupt countries in the world, has polluted vast areas of the country.  Air pollution is a growing problem in the nation due to the many cars and motorbikes that congest roads in Caracas and other major cities.  Plus, since Venezuela was one of the last countries in the world to ban lead in gasoline, the remnant of decades of pollution is present in soils.

National parks?  Venezuela has beautiful ones--with illegal mines, largely overlooked by the government.  When the governor of one of the most impacted states blamed the national military for supporting and getting paid off for the illegal mines, Maduro called him a drunk.

Venezuela has lost credibility with many economic and human rights groups in the last year or two as a result of the jailing of student protesters and political opponents.  If one doesn't know about the country's environmental record, it might be easy for environmentalists to think one found an ally in the President of Venezuela.  However, in reality, this is an ally to be avoided.

The main reason for this criticism from the President of the country is that Venezuela's economy is in the toilet.  Most international businesses have left the country.  Many of those that remained have been nationalized over the last 10 years or so.  With the loss of so many businesses, Venezuela's inefficient nationalized oil production system is the main source of income for the nation.  With oil selling at a cheap $75 a barrel, the country is losing money by producing oil.  The country needs oil to sell at about $110 a barrel to break even with national expenses.  The government is broke and going south quickly. As a result, there are shortages of basic goods everywhere in the country.  There is rationing for food and basic supplies.  To try to prevent hoarding the government requires fingerprinting to go grocery shopping.

Venezuela is blaming the rapid increase of energy production in the United States for its problems.  We are very close to being energy independent due to the quick ramp-up of renewables and the increased production of fossil fuels.  Venezuela isn't happy about this because this in part has caused a swift drop in oil prices worldwide.

So the critique of US's fracking is a bit of a sham.  It's always easy to blame someone else for one's own troubles.

Oh, and fraking in Venezuela?  Yes, it's being planned by the government owned energy company.

Update 11/3/14:  Note this report of a recent oil spill called "ecocide" by local activists.

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