A Fracking Primer: The Global Boom

Ed Note:  This paper provides an extensive overview of hydrofracking operations worldwide, exploring the theme that unconventional, high volume, horizontal high-pressure hydrofracking — “fracking” — represents a worldwide pattern of water and land grabbing that threatens entire communities in numerous ways, ranging from water contamination to massive degradation of enormous areas of land.

Source: TNI Agrarian Justice Programme
January 2013
Fracking Research Team
Jennifer Franco, Ana Maria Rey Martinez, Timothé Feodoroff
Fracking Research Team
Jennifer Franco, Ana Maria Rey Martinez, Timothé Feodoroff


This primer on fracking examines the problems with fracking, how it works, why it is growing, where it is happening, and resistance to fracking worldwide.

OLD STORY, NEW THREAT: Fracking and the Global Land Grab

In recent years, land and water grabbing— the capturing of control of large areas of land and other associated resources like water and underground materials and most significantly of the power to decide on their use1 — has gained additional momentum. As vast tracts of land and water are converted into industrial food and non-food production and used for extracting mineral resources, their quality is being degraded en masse. Today a new type of land and water grab is underway, this time from unconventional gas extraction that puts communities at great risk especially of serious water diversion, depletion, and contamination.
This new threat is called ‘fracking’, the common term for hydraulic fracturing, a relatively new method for extracting unconventional gas. This trend, besides impeding the full advance of cleaner and sustainable energy solutions, is expanding corporate driven and profit-led control over natural resources. Fracking is increasingly being pushed as a key solution on national energy security agendas. This latest attempt (after agrofuels) to postpone ‘peak oil’ is likewise accompanied by a reckless corporate pursuit of profits through ever-more environmentally and socially harmful techniques.
This paper explains what is fracking, why and where it is happening today, who is promoting it and how; providing a map of the global boom of fracking, its web of actors as well as the state of popular resistance. Promoted as a more sustainable energy source than other fossil fuels, fracking is spreading worldwide through a state-capital alliance that is capturing control of huge land and water resources at the expense of ordinary people. Fracking is an expression of the water and land grabbing agenda already underpinning expanding corporate takeover of natural resources. In addition to further intensifying and spreading fossil fuel extraction-related environmental destruction, fracking is breathing new life into the corporate oil industry, which is already a serious impediment to democratic control of resources and resource management and a key actor behind accelerating climate change. For all these reasons, fracking must be stopped.
Unconventional gas refers to methane (CH4) gas deposits that until now have been either technically unrecoverable or economically unviable. It is typically found trapped within hard shale rock and coal bed formations. Given the tight or low permeability of these geological formations—which limits the flow of gas—the rock must be fractured to allow conduits for gas to migrate to the production well bore. This requires the use of new technologies, in combination: horizontal drilling, in multi-well pads, frac fluid relying on slickwater (lubricating water). Since gas sources are more diffuse and difficult to extract in these rock formations, the scale of the industrial operation required is much larger—more invasive and involving a larger environmental footprint—than for conventional production. 2 The natural gas extracted through the fracking process provides key inputs for the petrochemical industry and underpins the production of nitrogen-based fertilizers, which are responsible for the so-called “Green Revolution” in agriculture.
It is also for industrial use, residential and commercial heating applications, and electricity generation.
What is “fracking”?
‘Fracking’ is the short-hand expression for ‘hydraulic fracturing’ or ‘hydrofracking’, a newly applied and fast spreading technology to extract unconventional natural gas trapped below shale and coal bed rock formations. It 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.
A typical unconventional gas frac involves drilling down three to six kilometres into the earth, beneath underground fresh water sources. When the shale or coal bed geological formations are reached, the drilling then proceeds horizontally for up to two kilometres in order to capture more gas. This horizontal borehole is filled with small packages of ball-bearing-like shrapnel and light explosives. The packages are detonated, and the shrapnel pierces the borehole opening up small perforations in the rock. A series of fractures, between 10 to 20, are created at set intervals about every 100 meters along the horizontal borehole. Furthermore, each drilling site, or pad, can host several horizontal wells – known as multi-well pads.
Then, a high-pressure injection of frac fluid is pumped into the borehole, a cocktail mix of one to eight million gallons of water, sand, and toxic chemicals that further fractures the rock formations and allows the gas embedded in it to rise under its own pressure and escape. Besides these chemicals there are other particles of solid components such as fibers, etc. that help keep the rock fractures open.

This is “Fracking”.
The fracking industry portrays the practice as safe after having undergone decades of development. This is a very partial truth, at best. Although some of the technical processes and technological components involved in fracking have been developed and tested since the late 1940s, the combination of directional or horizontal drilling, high frac fluid volumes, slickwater, and multi-well pads—into a whole encompassing procedure known as ‘hydraulic fracturing’—is less than a decade old.
Up until the late 1990s, the majority of gas production came from conventional reservoirs—which are pressurised pools of free-flowing gas trapped beneath porous limestone or sandstone rock5. While conventional gas extraction required a vertical well and less than a hundred thousand gallons of frac fluid, unconventional gas development needs horizontal drilling in order to get longer exposure to pocket of gas which are dispersed in the thin layers of shale and coal bed formations. Much higher volumes of frac fluid are also needed to open up the fractures and joints where the gas is stored as it does not flow easily through the rock. Fracking, in this form, was first undertaken in the Barnett Shale of east Texas, US in 2002. Fracking is hence a relatively recent technology, not as tried and tested as the industry would like us to believe, with growing evidence of hazardous impacts.
Why is unconventional gas being promoted now?
Rising oil prices, concerns about ‘peak oil’, and growing public awareness of environmental depletion have made diversification of energy sources in a ‘sustainable’ manner an urgent matter for governments and corporations. This diversification
Old Story, New Threat: Fracking and the global land grab
In Europe, Poland is currently the country most actively involved in shale gas leasing and exploration, prioritised by the government in
the name of energy security. As of 2011, around 100 licenses have been issued to international and state oil and gas companies for
shale gas exploration and production, mainly targeting three rich shale basins: the Baltic in the North, the Lublin in the South and the Podlasie in the East. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has called unconventional gas the country’s “great chance” to reduce Poland’s high dependence on Russian gas. “After years of dependence on our large neighbor (Russia), today we can say that my generation will see the day when we will be independent in the area of natural gas and we will be setting terms”

Russia’s largest gas extractor, Gazprom, supplies nearly two-thirds of Poland’s annual gas consumption of 496 Bcf.8 The Polish prime minister also insists that everyone can rest “assured that well conducted exploration and production would not pose a danger to the environment.”
Poland is also the country under the most obvious fracking-induced threat of water and land grabbing. First of all, companies do not
pay for water, as it is included in the land concession, not even in areas that are exposed to water shortages, as in the South. Second,
Poland’s legal framework enables companies to buy the land for gas extraction even if the actual owner does not want to sell it. Shale
gas extraction has been specifically included on the official government list that allows for dispossession of farmers or real estate owners.

Finally, during the year 2011, when most licenses for exploration were granted, no preliminary environmental assessment
was required from the companies. Due to this, companies cannot be held accountable for the state in which they return any leased
land. In January 2011, the Warsaw Appeals Prosecutor’s Office announced that seven people, including government officials, have
been charged with corruption during the granting of licenses for shale gas exploration. This illustrates the mechanics of a state capital alliance that lies behind many global examples of control grabbing.
Porous limestone and sandstone
Vertical drilling
Less than a 100 thousand gallons of frac fluid
Hard rock shale or coal bed formation
Horizontal drilling and multi-stage fracking
1 to 8 millions of gallons of frac fluid

From Conventional Natural Gas… …to Unconventional Natural Gas
is all the more important given corporations’ constant search
for new avenues for profit, particularly since the 2008 global
crisis. In this context, unconventional gas production has
become the new El-Dorado for a faltering globalised economy
whose engines of cheap oil and easy profit accumulation are
facing serious challenges.
Fracking has also been hailed as a new panacea for countries
lagging economically. Advocates of fracking promise
increased jobs or government revenues. Moreover, unconventional
gas has emerged in parallel to the fast spread of the
bio-economy, deepening the extraction and capitalisation of
natural resources such as agrofuels —soybean, African palm
oil, sugarcane, corn, and Jatropha— which have failed to live
up to their claims to be clean and efficient alternative energy
Industry claims that unconventional natural gas is a much
cleaner energy source than any other fossil fuel. This is in
part due to a perception that natural gas has a lower greenhouse
gas (GHG) footprint than coal and oil. Unconventional
gas is promoted as a “bridge fuel” or “transition fuel” from
high-carbon sources of energy like coal for electricity and
oil for vehicular transport, to an energy future based on
At the global level, fracking is promoted as an “exit” strategy
from the energy crisis and a potential geopolitical “game
changer” for some countries. With reserves alleged to provide
up to “a century” of supply, some West European countries
could gain independence from Russian gas; Argentina could
reverse its fortunes and revitalise its economy by exploiting
its vast gas endowments; and North America, China and
Australia could become prime players in the unconventional
gas market.
Where is Fracking happening?
Fracking for unconventional gas is spreading rapidly through
the world, promoted with the same discourse of energy
self-sufficiency, economic growth and development, and
environmental benefits. Although the phenomenon started in
North America, since the 2000s it has become a worldwide
practice. In addition to the United States, Canada, Australia,
and New Zealand have all started industrial production of
Old Story, New Threat: Fracking and the global land grab

According to the Oil and Gas Journal, Vietnam has 24.7 Tcf of proven natural gas reserves as of January 2012. As a result of
Vietnam’s aggressive policy to attract investment and its enthusiastic issuance of exploration contracts for its offshore fields, a lot of foreign companies have flooded in, including major players such as Exxon Mobil, BP, Chevron, Gazprom and Total. Neither Vietnam nor its neighbors currently possess the technology needed to successfully extract oil and gas from these depths, and so are reliant on these corporations.12 Vietnam’s offshore projects are located in the South China Sea, a highly contentious and politically volatile region between China, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines, which makes effective public monitoring of the extractive activity there very difficult.
The United States produced 21,577 billion cubic feet (Bcf) in 2010, a level not achieved since a period of high natural gas production between 1970s and 1974—and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that the country possesses 2,552 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of potential natural gas resources, enough to supply the US for 110 years (US House of Representatives 2011: 2).
A much larger group of countries are undertaking unconventional
gas explorations, which includes early evaluation
drilling, pilot project drilling, and pilot production testing.
These countries are: Taiwan, Vietnam, India, China, Germany,
Poland Sweden, Denmark, UK, The Netherlands, Ukraine,
Italy, South Africa, Algeria, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, and
Mexico. Poland has already granted around 100 licenses to
international and state oil and gas companies for shale gas
exploration (see Box 3). In Argentina the government has
instituted a ‘Gas Plus’ program that entitles companies to sell
natural gas from unconventional fields at higher prices, and
foresees the drilling of 1,000 wells by 2013.
Another group of countries are just beginning to establish
pre-fracking legislative frameworks acting as legal openers
(or closers in case of bans and moratoriums), and setting
up the mechanisms to enable the granting of licenses for
exploration. The governments of Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia,
China, France (despite there being a ban on fracking in place),
Spain, Tunisia, and Uruguay have not yet given the green light
to exploratory drilling. However, they are enacting policies that
will facilitate the entrance of fracking into their territories.

Who is promoting it and how?
Behind the scenes in the worldwide scramble for unconventional
gas exploration and extraction are a wide range of
public and private transnational, national and institutional actors.
Leading the pack are the usual transnational companies,
which can be divided into three categories. First, there are
the technology suppliers such as Halliburton, Schlumberger,
Haker Hughes, GasFrac Energy Services, Frac Tech services,
Old Story, New Threat: Fracking and the global land grab

At the global level, the United States is
also playing a crucial role in promoting
unconventional gas exploitation as a key
to economic development. The Global
Shale Gas Initiative, launched by the US
Department of State in 2010, is actively
making the case for worldwide legislation
that favours fracking. In the same vein, the
US Department of Energy issued in 2011 one
of the most extensive publicly accessible gas
shale profiles, mapping the state of the resource
worldwide.19 Furthermore, under the umbrella of international
cooperation for development, the US is aggressively
pressuring governments to open their door to unconventional
gas exploitation as Indonesia can attest.
In addition to natural gas producers’ lobbies, such as the
Americas Natural Gas Alliance and American Petroleum
Institute, parts of the academic and scientific world have also
played a significant role in framing the unconventional gas
agenda. For example, the US Department of Energy’s influential
report “World Shale Gas Resources: An Initial Assessment
of 14 Regions Outside the United States” was prepared by
the Advances Resources International Inc., an external group
– but not independent from the industry’s standpoint.23 The
green light for fracking comes from this web of opaque connections
and blurred interests between those three actors.
Only the strongest of citizens’ campaigning has succeeded
in blocking fracking.
But even where this has occurred, there is no guarantee
of long-term success, as seen in the case of South Africa,
where recently, in September 2012, the government yielded
to strong industry pressure and the lure of potential profits
to lift an existing ban on fracking. This has set the stage for a
new round of public protest and citizen action.
China is one of the most enthusiastic Asian supporters of unconventional gas, seeing its development as “a ‘revolution’ to increase
domestic gas supply, improve the energy mixture and protect energy security” (Jiang Xinmin, Deputy Director of the Energy Research
Institute, July 2012).14 Although, China’s amount of gas reserves is still undefined, experts agree that it could be one of the largest in
the world and 50 percent greater than US reserves. According to a recent report by the Chinese Ministry of Land and Resources,
China has around 4, 8000 Tcf of onshore shale gas reserves, which lie mainly in the Sichuan and Tarim Basins in the southern and
western regions.15 Although, studies have already indicated a myriad of challenges gas exploration might face—highlighting the country’s
geological complexities, water shortages, insufficient pipeline infrastructure, and the state control over natural gas prices16—China
is determined to support the sector’s development. In its five-year shale gas development plan to 2015, the Chinese government
has set a target for the industry to produce 229 Bcf of shale gas a year and by 2020, the nation’s goal is for shale gas to provide 6
percent of its energy needs.17 To achieve these goals, China is encouraging domestic producers to form partnerships with foreign oil
and gas companies. On March 2012, Shell signed China’s first shale gas production sharing contract with China National Petroleum
Corporation (CNPC) to produce in the Fushun-Yongchuan block in the Sichuan Basin, covering 3,500 square kilometers. ExxonMobil,
BP, Chevron, and Total also have embarked on shale gas partnerships in China.18
etc. which own the technical know-how but do not necessarily
engage in the fracking process itself. This operation is
undertaken by the drillers, a myriad of gas companies whose
leading players are global corporations such Exxon Mobil,
Chesapeake, Chevron, Apache, Encana, Shell, etc. Finally,
French Total, Italian ENI and Spanish Repsol among others
embody the investors, companies involved in many countries
mostly financing projects and always in joint venture with
drillers. Even though the unconventional gas field involves
big players or industry groups, each fracking site usually
involves at least two or three companies, often mixing national
ones with foreign players, including in the United States and
These corporate actors are intimately bound with governmental
bodies. Besides the issuing of licenses and permits,
governments are responsible for setting the energy policy
direction that supports fracking and setting in place the legal
gate openers that facilitates exploration and production. The
government role varies from enthusiastic promoters of fracking
(Argentina, Poland, China, the US), to enablers (Australia,
New Zealand) or governments who actually oppose development
of fracking (Quebec, Bulgaria, and France). The government
as a public sphere is, as ever, a contested arena where
politics is played out differently according to each case.
Academic and
Scientific world
Lobbies from
Old Story, New Threat: Fracking and the global land grab
According to the Bandung Technology University (ITB), Indonesia holds 1,000 Tcf of shale gas reserves20 and around 453.3 Tcf of Coalbed
Methane (CBM) potential. Shale and CBM gas are found in up to 11 hydrocarbon basins in different locations throughout Sumatra, Java,
Kalimantan and Sulawesi. Although, Indonesia has not yet engaged in fracking activities, its government is opening the door for unconventional
gas exploitation following technical and political advice from the US government. The US-Indonesia Energy Investment Roundtable
(February 2012), in particular, made a strong case in support of unconventional gas exploration in Indonesia:
Indonesia stands poised to benefit from a global market that increasingly looks to natural gas for many uses, including as the bridgefuel
technology to a lower carbon energy future. Through engagement with our private sector, through dialogues such as today’s, and
programs such as the Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program, we look forward to advancing our strategic partnership
for energy security into a long and fruitful future (Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs in
February 2012)21.
To increase CBM development, the Indonesian government has passed measures to attract new investors whilst encouraging existing
contractors to accelerate production.22 Companies, such as Medco Energy International (MedcoEnergy), Korea Gas Corporation, MEO
Australia Ltd., Dart Energy, and VICO Indonesia (the national oil and gas company), have started bidding on land concessions.
According to researcher David Fig, in South Africa, “a number of companies have lined up to explore shale gas and have been granted
permission by the regulator, the Petroleum Agency of South Africa, to undertake preliminary technical studies in different parts of the
country. Four bids cover a total area of 228,000 km2, which amounts to almost one-fifth of the territorial surface of South Africa. Three
bids are for parts of the Karoo Region— a desert region of South Africa— while the fourth covers an enormous area including most of
the Free State, parts of the Northern and Eastern Cape, and a strip of KwaZulu-Natal adjacent to the Drakensberg”
Company Nationality Area of exploration Surface area granted (km2)
Royal Dutch Shell UK/Netherlands Karoo (W & E Cape) 90,000
Bundu Australia Karoo (E Cape) 3,100
Falcon US Karoo (E Cape) 30,350
Sasol – Statoil – Chesapeake* SA – Norway – US Free State, E Cape and KZN 105,000
*Sasol and associates announced in late November 2011 that they would no longer pursue their right to explore, leaving their territory open to another applicant.
Sources: Petroleum Agency of South Africa, www.pasa.co.za (downloaded 11 October 2011); Falcon, www.falconoilandgas.com (downloaded 11 January 2012,
equivalent to 7.5 million acres); Challenger, www.challengerenergy.com.au/projects/south-africa-project/cranemere (downloaded 11 October 2010).
On 7 September 2012 the government of South Africa lifted its moratorium on fracking that had been in place for 18 months. The green
light was given based on the recommendations of a ministerial task team whose membership included representatives of the Petroleum
Agency, Mineral Resources, Energy, Trade & Industry, Science & Technology, Economic Development, while excluding representatives
from Agriculture, Environment, Health, Tourism, and water ministries.
See: D. Fig, “Fracking and the Democratic Deficit in South Africa”, http://www.tni.org/paper/fracking-and-democratic-deficit-southafrica,
July 2012).
In April and May 2011, the seaside community of Blackpool, in Lancashire county of Northwest England, witnessed two earthquakes with
magnitudes of 2.3 and 1.5 on the Ritcher scale correspondingly34. The area, which sits on England’s most important shale gas basin,
had become the operating site for unconventional gas exploration by Cuadrilla Resources Ltd, a UK company. Studies commissioned
by the company itself to examine the possible relationship between hydraulic fracturing at the Preese Hall well, near Blackpool, and the
earthquakes concluded that in fact, the quakes were caused by direct fluid injection during the fracking process.35 A panel of independent
experts appointed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) confirmed the causality and stressed the probability of
further quakes, while allowing the corporation to resume activities.36 Although, a series of protests have taken place ever since the earthquakes—
of community members demanding a ban, or at least a moratorium on fracking for the risks it poses to nature and human well
being—the company has the green light to frack. Meanwhile concerned citizens37 are being silenced and criminalised.38 Last September
2012, Lancashire’s planning chief, denounced Cuadrilla for breaching fracking conditions.39 The company was found to be drilling beyond
an agreed time limit and beyond a cut-off date in a protected region for wintering birds. Despite the controversy and the risks, the British
government remains loyal to plans to increase shale gas production.
Old Story, New Threat: Fracking and the global land grab
Why should we be concerned?
The highly and enthusiastically promoted benefits of
unconventional natural gas extraction, have managed to
conceal the higher stakes: real concerns about drinking water
contamination, water depletion, carcinogens threatening public
health, air pollution, and instances of fracking-induced seismic
Industries repeatedly claim that there is no risk posed
by fracking to aquifers or underground water sources.
Statements like this made by a Shell executive are routine:
You have the risk from the chemicals, and the risk of that
happening as far as I know is actually very close to zero or
zero because it has not been seen in the world yet.”24 This
self-serving myth is sustained on two ideas: one, that shale
and coal bed rock formations are too deep below water
sources for water to get contaminated, and two, that the
cement casing technology is too good for it to ever crack or
corrode.25 The bad news, as research has demonstrated, are
that cement-casing failures may allow methane and other
hazardous chemicals to migrate to the water source, hence to
somebody’s water well.26
A study undertaken by the US House of Representatives
in 201127 noted that out of 2,500 fracking inputs, 650 are
chemicals, several of which are carcinogens and hazardous
air pollutants. BTEX compounds such as benzene, toluene,
xylene, and ethylbenzene, notorious for having harmful effects
on the people’s central nervous system, appeared in 60 of
the hydraulic fracturing products used between 2005 and
2009.28 The major concern here is that these chemicals can
leak into both ground and underground water sources during
the fracking process. Water contamination can happen in the
form of accidental spills during truck transportation, leakages
through cracked or corroded cementing casing of the wells, or
as fugitive gas through the rock fractures themselves.
Wastewater, also known as ‘produced water’, is also a major
risk in fracking. Most of the chemical-laced frac fluid injected
down the well will stay below ground, but for every million
gallons between 20 and 40% will be regurgitated back to the
surface, bringing with it: chemicals, traces of oil-laced drilling
mud, and all the other toxic substances previously trapped in
the rock: iron, chromium, salt, and radioactive materials such
as Radium 226.29 Most of the wastewater is produced in the
first few months of production and, as it is toxic, must be
disposed through recycling (not commonly applied), through
re-injection, or via surface treatment through processing at
wastewater facilities.30 Today, most water treatment facilities
are not designed to handle fracking wastewater. Hence,
produced water is often left in large ponds to eventually
evaporate. In many cases, the contaminated wastewater ends
up in rivers and water streams.31
Industry claims that unconventional natural gas is a much
cleaner energy source than any other carbon intensive fossil
fuel. However, ongoing research has begun to dispel these
myths. It has found that over the full life cycle of unconventional
gas production—including direct emissions of CO2 from
combustion of the natural gas, indirect emissions from fossil
through venting
and flaring
Why to be concerned?
Aquifer Zone
caused by frack fluid
migration at high
through casing cracks
(research underway)
with methane (CH4)
+ radioactive materials
Retention dike of
“produced water”
– rejected into streams
Gas uploading
Old Story, New Threat: Fracking and the global land grab
fuels used for land clearing, extraction and transportation of
the gas, and methane emissions at the drilling pads—greenhouse
gas (GHG) emissions are higher compared to conventional
gas, coal or oil.32
Last but not least, fracking can cause earthquakes. As in the
case of Lancashire in the UK (see Box 9), similar episodes
have been experienced in Oklahoma and Arkansas. According
to a report by the National Research Council, there is a higher
risk of man-made seismic events when wastewater from
fracking process is injected back into the ground. 33
Why is fracking a dangerous diversion in the
search for a just energy solution for all?
Beyond the immediate environmental concerns, fracking is ultimately
a false solution for securing sustainable energy security
or sovereignty. Praised as an “exit” strategy from energy
insecurity and the crisis in economic growth, unconventional
gas exploitation is merely the normal and latest expression of
the very process it alleges to cure. It continues the plunder of
natural resources carried through the corporate-government
nexus bringing huge profits to a small number of people. It
acts as an impediment to developing real alternative consumer
patterns and renewable technologies. Fracking ends up as a
short-term endorphin fix preventing necessary changes to our
model of economic development based on uneven patterns of
consumption and cheap supplies where some over-consume
energy while other do not have sufficient access.
What is the state of resistance to fracking
As fracking spreads across the world, attempts of a more
unified global resistance are emerging. Last September 22
was declared the Global Frackdown Day40 where more than
100 events took place all around the world to protest against
fracking. The day showed that citizens are awakening to the
threat of this new corporate driven “golden age” of gas.
Due to strong civil society pressure, some governments
have already agreed to ban or impose a moratorium on
fracking (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France,
Germany, Romania, Australian state of Victoria, Canadian
provinces of Quebec and Nova Scotia, US states of New
York, Pennsylvania and Vermont). In Austria and Sweden
this pressure led the companies involved to withdraw while
in England and Netherlands fracking has been suspended.41
And campaigns are undergoing in Poland, Spain, Ireland,
US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Despite all the challenges,
resistance seems to be growing.
In New Zealand, several groups have been campaigning since
2011 to stop the fracking approved by the government on four
million hectares of New Zealand land.42 This has advanced so
far due to gaps in the regulatory framework,43 and has already
led to cases of water contamination44. Anti-fracking activists
have framed the campaign in terms of climate justice and
their efforts have influenced local authorities of fracking-affected
areas to take a strong stand against it.45 Since February
Places where a ban or a moratorium has been gained
Places where companies suspended their activities
Places where anti-fracking campaigns are conducted
Old Story, New Threat: Fracking and the global land grab
Only the strongest of citizens’ campaigning has succeeded in blocking fracking. The French campaign that led to the first ban in
Europe started in late 2010.60
Following the discovery in March that the government had delivered without any public consultation permits for fracking on three
sites, and with news of 64 other licenses pending, local citizens formed groups in affected areas. This quickly led to the mushrooming
of informal spontaneous and uncoordinated town-hall meetings in villages gathering unprecedented numbers of people. In
early 2011, a massive citizens’ movement began to form, with a landmark public demonstration in February and bringing together
strong local networks that succeeded quickly in compelling local authorities to take an anti-fracking stance. The national government,
unprepared for such an uproar was caught short; initially it issued a moratorium but after further pressure a law banning fracking
was approved by Parliament in July 2011.
Two factors have been decisive to ensure this success. First, politically, the anti-fracking movement effectively combined spontaneous
and passionate local protests with challenges at a national level on legal grounds pinpointing irregularities based on French
land and water legislation. Second the movement benefited from a strong sense of locality and place in rural areas which framed the
campaign in terms of democracy and sovereignty over land.
Industry has not surrendered however after the ban and has started to use the law’s loopholes, asking for example for permits for
“stimulating bedrock” that exploit the fact that the law does not properly define fracking. They have also invested in a far-reaching
public relations campaign that promotes fracking with the language of energy independence and job opportunities.
In this new phase of struggle, facing a long-term information war with the unconventional gas industry, the anti-fracking campaign
faces several challenges, besides lack of financial means, political power and absence of spokespeople. First, the new proposed sites
for fracking are in more urban Northern regions of France where people are less locally rooted and attached to their land. There are
also divisions emerging as the movement has broadened around issues such as alternative energy models, with different stances
taken, on nuclear power for instance.
2012, seven regional and district councils have called, so far
unsuccessfully, on the national government to implement at
least a moratorium.46
In the US, grassroots organizations across 20 fracking-implicated
states have been opposing drilling for unconventional
gas in their territories. Concerned citizens, academics47, researchers,
journalists48, artists49, and even council members50
have questioned the profit driven nature of the national energy
policy and have rejected the exemption gas industry has
from the Clean Water and Air acts.51 Campaigns in New York,
Vermont and Pennsylvania have so far succeeded in winning
a moratorium.
Although, fracking is not yet underway in Spain, licenses have
already been given. This year alone, the Canadian corporation
BNK Petroleum obtained a total of 1600 km2 for exploration
of unconventional gas shale gas in Arquetu (Cantabria),
Sedano (Burgos), and Urraca (Burgos-Alava).52 Different
groups around Cantabria, Castilla y León, and País Vasco have
joined together to oppose production. Last October 2012, an
unprecedented mobilisation against fracking took place in
Vitoria, Alaba (País Vasco). United under a common message,
“ez hemen, ez inon” (not here, not anywhere), around thirteen
thousand citizens took to the streets to protest against fracking.
53 53 out of 63 towns from Vitoria have already declared
themselves fracking-free zones.
In January 2012, after continuous protests by anti-fracking
groups, the Bulgarian parliament imposed a ban on the
exploration of shale oil and gas in the country, in addition
to withdrawing a license granted to Chevron Corporation.54
Citizens’ main concerns were that fracking will pollute the
water and soil in the nation’s most fertile farm region of
Dobrudja.55 Unfortunately, and only five months later, the
government eased the ban and already plans to grant concessions
to start production of gas in northern Bulgaria.56
Meanwhile in Quebec, the provincial government has issueed
a moratorium on shale gas fracking.57 However a ban will not
be issued before the Committee on Strategic Environmental
Assessment’s final report, scheduled for late 2013.58
This fragile situation is echoed in other cases, showing, first,
that a legal framework is not sufficient to prevent future
u-turns in government policy and second, that civil society
monitoring and constant mobilisation is essential.
Fracking is being debated at the European Parliament closely
monitored by a campaign led by dozens of groups from 17
member countries throughout Europe. Together they are doing
their best to provide a popular counter-weight to the strong
lobbying efforts by the shale gas industry. In September 2012,
a French Green member of the European Parliament drafted
and managed to bring to the plenary session an amendment
calling for a moratorium on the use of fracking that received
one third of votes in its favour. In November 2012, the
Parliament backed in a vote the conclusion of two reports
prepared by the Parliament’s committees on Industry and
Energy and Environment and Public Health that recognised
negative impacts of shale gas development. The resolution
called upon the European Commission to strengthen current
Old Story, New Threat: Fracking and the global land grab
Frackaction: http://www.frackaction.com/
Water Defense: http://www.waterdefense.org/
Propublica.org: http://www.propublica.org/series/fracking
Food and Water Watch: http://documents.foodandwaterwatch.org/water/fracking/
Council of Canadians: http://canadians.org/water/issues/fracking/index.html
Friends of the Earth Europe: http://www.foeeurope.org/
environmental legislation related to shale gas. Other EU institutions
are not required to act on their demand, but the call
indicates support for regulation in case legislation regulating
the shale gas industry arrives at the European Parliament.
Although the call for a stronger regulation can be decried
The content of this Publication maybe quoted or reproduced provided that the source is acknowledged. Transnational Institute would appreciate
receiving a copy of the document in which the publication is cited.
as legitimising fracking instead of engaging on the path of a
ban;59 complying with higher environmental standards has
a cost that can be prohibitive for the energy industry and
therefore be a serious brake for the development of fracking
and the accompanying land and water grabs.
Old Story, New Threat: Fracking and the global land grab
1 (TNI) Transnational Institute (2012) The Global Land Grab:
A Primer. Available at http://www.tni.org/primer/global
2 (IEA) International Energy Agency (2012) “Golden Rules
for a Golden Age of Gas” Available at http://www.
3 Ibid., p. 19.
4 Hughes, D. J. (2011) “Will Natural Gas Fuel America in
the 21st Century?” Post Carbon Institute, p. 13.
5 Ibid., p. 17.
6 See TNBorras S.M, D. Fig, and S. Monsalve (2011), “I’s
publication Agrofuels Crops (2011) and The Politics of
Agrofuels and Mega-land and Water deals: insights from
the ProCana case, Mozambique” Review of African Political
Economy 38(128): 215-234. Available at http://www.tni.org/
ROAPE%202011.pdf (2011).
7 Dittrick, P. (2011) “Unconventional Oil and Gas focus:
Poland shale gas could change European Supply mix” Oil &
Gas Journal. Available at http://www.ogj.com/articles/print/
8 Daly, P. (2012) “Poland gives green light to massive fracking
efforts” Available at http://oilprice.com/Energy/Natural-Gas/
9 Ibid.
10 Krolak, J. (2012) “Łupkowe prawo do
wywłaszczen´.” Available at http://www.
11 Daly, J. (2012) “Poland gives green light to massive fracking
efforts” Available at http://oilprice.com/Energy/Natural-Gas/
12 Atik, J. (2012) “ExxonMobil to ‘decide’ China-Vietnam
dispute in South China Sea” Available at http://llsblog.
dispute-in-south-china-sea.html; http://www.
eia.gov/countries/cab.cfm?fips=VM and Gasprom http://
13 Shale-Gas Argentina (2012) “Fueron licitadas áreas de Vaca
Muerta en Neuquén y Mendoza” Available at http://shale-gas.
and http://shale-gas.com.ar/gas-de-esquisto-2/
14 Yan, Z. (2012) “Shale gas fever develops as firms see a new
gold rush” China Daily. Available at http://www.chinadaily.
15 IEA (2012), p. 15.
16 Global Data (2012) “China’s Five year Shale Gas
development plan seems optimistic” Available at
17 National Geographic (2012) “China Drills Into Shale
Gas, Targeting Huge Reserves Amid Challenges”
Available at http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/
18 Ibid.
19 Vello Kuuskraa, S. Stevens, T. Van Leeuwen and K. Moodhe
(2011) “World Shale Gas Resources: An Initial Assessment of
14 Regions outside the United States”
20 The Jakarta Post (2012) “RI to begin to auction shale gas fields
this year” Available at http://www.thejakartapost.com/
21 Cekuta, R. (2012) “Unconventional Natural Gas: The U.S.
experience and Global Energy Security”, Address to the
2nd U.S.-Indonesia Energy Investment Roundtable, Jakarta,
Indonesia, available at http://www.state.gov/e/enr/rls/
22 PwC International Limited (2012) Oil and Gas in Indonesia.
Available at http://www.pwc.com/id/en/publications/assets/
23 Advanced Resources International, Inc., “senior staff” Available at
24 News24 (2012) “Shell urges responsible Karoo fracking”
Available at http://www.news24.com/SciTech/News/
25 Lecture by Cornell University Professor and Rock Mechanic
Engineer, Dr. Anthony Ingraffea: http://www.youtube.com/
26 Osborn et al. (2011) “Methane contamination of drinking water
accompanying gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing” PNAS
118(20): 8172-8176.
27 US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and
Commerce, Minority Staff (2011) Chemicals used in Hydraulic
28 Ibid., p.1.
29 The Wilderness Society WA Inc (2012) Briefing Paper “What
the Frac? The threat of fracking and onshore unconventional
gas in WA”.
30 Hughes, D.J. (2011), p. 23
31 Desplaces, J.C. (2012) “Fracking: the deeper you
dig, the darker it gets” Available at http://www.
32 Howarth, R., R. Santaro, and A.R. Ingraffea (2012) “Venting and
Leaking of Methane from Shale Gas Development: Response to
Cathles et al” Climatic Change.
33 National Research Council (2012) Induced Seismicity Potential
in Energy Technologies. Available at http://i2.cdn.turner.com/
34 Paige, J. (2011) “Blackpool earthquake tremors
may have been caused by gas drilling” Available
at http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/jun/01/
35 Green C.A., P. Styles and J.P. Baptie (2012) “Review and
recommendations for induced seismic mitigation” Available at
36 Ibid .
37 Rising Tide (2012) “Frack the World Inc. visits Bath” Available at
38 Zee, B. van deer (2012) “Anti-fracking activists found guilty
of trespass” Available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/
Published by Transnational Institute
The Transnational Institute was founded in 1974. It is an international network of activist-scholars committed to critical analyses of the global problems of today and tomorrow.
TNI seeks to provide intellectual support to those movements concerned to steer the world in a democratic, equitable and environmentally sustainable direction.
For more information contact:
In recent years, various actors, from big foreign and domestic corporate business and finance to governments, have initiated a large-scale worldwide enclosure of agricultural lands, mostly in the Global South but also elsewhere. This is done for large-scale industrial and industrial agriculture ventures and often packaged as large-scale investment for rural development. But rather than being investment that is going to benefit the majority of rural people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, this process constitutes a new wave of land and water ‘grabbing’. It is a global phenomenon whereby the access, use and right to land and other closely associated natural resources is being taken over – on a large-scale
and/or by large-scale capital – resulting in a cascade of negative impacts on rural livelihoods and ecologies, human rights, and local food security.
In this context TNI aims to contribute to strengthening the campaigns by agrarian social movements in order to make them more effective in resisting land and water grabbing; and in developing and advancing alternatives such as land/food/water sovereignty
and agro-ecological farming systems.
39 Carrington, D. (2012) “Cuadrilla breached fracking conditions, court told” Available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/sep/10/cuadrilla-breach-fracking-lancashire
40 Global Frackdown Day, http://www.globalfrackdown.org/
41 Combes, M. (2012) “ Gaz et pétrole de schiste : tour d’horizon d’une mobilisation citoyenne internationale” Available at http://alter-echos.org/extractivisme-ressources-naturelles/gaz-et-petrole-de-schiste-tour-dhorizon-dune-mobilisation-citoyenne-internationale/
42 Reid, N. (2012) “Hughes calls for fracking ban until facts known” Available at http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/6673679/Hughes-calls-for-fracking-ban-until-facts-known
43 Desplaces, J.C. (2012) “Fracking: the deeper you dig, the darker it gets” Available at http://www.massivemagazine.org.nz/blog/2012/03/19/fracking-the-deeper-you-dig-the-darker-it-gets/
44 Climate Justice Taranaki (2011) “Fracking Factsheet” Available at http://climatejusticetaranaki.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/cjt-fracking-factsheet-15aug2012.pdf and also O’brien, T. (2012) “Fracking in Southland exposed” Available at http://www.3news.co.nz/Fracking-in-Southland-exposed/tabid/423/articleID/259325/Default.aspx
45 Climate Justice Taranaki Movement, http://climatejusticetaranaki.wordpress.com/about/
46 Clean Country Coalition (2012) “Organisations with Grave Concerns about Fracking” Available at http://nodrilling.wordpress.com/fracking/organisationswithgraveconcerns/
47 “Climate Impact of Shale Gas Development” Available at
48 Movie “Gasland”, http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/
49 Artists against fracking, http://artistsagainstfracking.com/
50 Frongillo, D. (2011) “Fracking Hits Home in Upstate New York” Available at http://www.wearepowershift.org/blogs/fracking-hits-home-upstate-new-york
51 Ibid.
52 Hispanidad (2012) “BNK Petroleum comenzará en un año a explorar ‘shale gas’ en España” Available at http://www.hispanidad.com/bnk-petroleum-comenzar-en-un-ao-a-explorar-shale-gas-en-espaa-20120320-148830.html
53 Elizaran, J. (2012) “Una multitud protesta contra el fracking en Vitoria” Available at http://www.elcorreo.com/alava/v/20121007/alava/multitud-protesta-contra-fracking-20121007.html
54 Associated Press (2012) “Bulgaria bans shale gas fracking” http://my.news.yahoo.com/bulgaria-bans-shale-gas-fracking-141807413.html
55 “Bulgaria bans fracking” Available at http://www.isa.org/InTechTemplate.cfm?template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=88224
56 Reuters (2012) “Bulgaria eases oil and gas fracking ban” Available at http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/06/14/bulgaria-shale-idUKL5E8HEAL720120614
57 CTV Montreal “Fracking denounced at Montreal protest” Available at http://montreal.ctvnews.ca/fracking-denounced-at-montreal-protest-1.967472
58 “Quebec gas in peril as PQ signals ban” (2012) Available at http://www.ernstversusencana.ca/quebec-to-seek-ban-on-shale-gas-fracking-minister
59 Friends of the Earth Europe (2012) “Missed opportunity to impose moratorium on ‘fracking’ for shale gas” Available at http://www.foeeurope.org/european-parliament-takes-risky-stance-risky-fuel-211112
60 Combes, M. (2012) “Global Frackdown on Fracking companies: 22 September” Available at http://www.ejolt.org/2012/09/global-frackdown-on-fracking-companies/