"Until last year, we did not know that fracking was happening in Tunisia", says Sabria Barka from Eco-Conscience, an environmental NGO based in Tunis. While the government claims fracking is not yet happening in Tunisia, citizen groups have witnessed fracking in Hammamet Gulf, Sfax and Tataouine. Concern about fracking is growing fast among citizens.
The growing concern among citizens was reflected by the a large number of participants from Tunisia at the workshop on ‘the truth behind hydraulic fracturing' during the World Social Forum in Tunis. At the workshop, Tunisian citizens' groups met with activists fighting against fracking in Quebec, the US, Spain, France and elsewhere. ‘Fracking’ is the short-hand expression for ‘hydraulic fracturing’ or ‘hydrofracking’, a new and fast spreading technology to extract unconventional natural gas trapped below shale and coal bed rock formations. Fracking consists of a multi-stage process of drilling deep below the surface of the earth, blasting deep rock formations and creating fissures to release natural gas trapped there, and then bringing these deposits up to the Earth’s surface through the injection of water into the drilling well.
Fracking requires a huge amount of water and water is contaminated by chemicals as a consequence. This is of the reasons for concern: Tunisia is not a water-rich country, but faces water scarcity. Tunisian activists point to the huge information gap: reliable information about fracking is simply unavailable for citizens. “The problem is that the regulation on mining in Tunis is too old and cannot apply to such a new method of mining. Also, we don’t have a facility to clean the contaminated water”, said Med Dhia Hammami, the leader of a Tunisian student association. “The government says they use sea water for the operation, but we know that is not true”, Hammami added.
“The government says they use sea water for the operation, but we know that is not true.”
The resistance against fracking is growing fast across the world, ranging from local struggles to global mobilisation. “We had never thought we could effectively challenge oil companies in the US”, said Darcy O'Callaghan, a campaigner at Food and Water Watch. We started with voicing our concerns about public health and safety and campaigned to ban fracking at the very local level”, O'Callaghan explained, adding that “We worked together with doctors, nurses, teachers unions and local victories have led us to state level campaigns such as in Pennsylvania where fracking was newly arriving. The state of Vermont effectively made fracking a permanent moratorium. Many celebrities joined ‘New Yorkers against Fracking’ and now we are united as ‘Americas against Fracking’”. In the US, the national coalition has helped speed up opposition to fracking, by sharing experiences across the country.
Citizens' groups in Quebec successfully advocated a moratorium on fracking. “We thought it would be difficult to reach consensus in the parliament to ban fracking”, said Jean Claude Balu, “and we therefore advocated a moratorium for fracking instead, to allow for extensive investigation of the impacts on fracking on public health and the environment”.
In Spain 11 out of 17 autonomous communities are affected by fracking permissions, but the northern region Cantabria is passing a law to ban fracking. Also many municipalities in Catalonia are opposed. “When we demand that municipalities should take a position against fracking, we bring a proposal to develop a new energy model, reducing consumption and dependency on fossil fuel and establish energy sovereignty based on renewable energy production”, said Maria Campuzano, campaigner with Engineers without Borders Catalonia.
Although fracking is a technically complicated issue, citizens' resistance to this new threat to clean water has become effective and strong. Local struggles across the world are quickly getting connected, creating a global pressure to stop fracking. The website globalfrackdown.org is functioning as a space of communication. The 2nd Global Frackdown action day will take place on 19th October.