Opinion, by Alfonso Stefanini

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – We use more rock today in the form of petroleum than we did during the Stone Age. The technological cavemen tactics used by the hydro-fracturing industry to borehole into the substrata and harvest one hundred million year-old dead animal and plant flatulence is really hard to fathom in a world with so many alternative energy sources, including the endless amounts of sun and wind available all around us.

Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro.
Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is a method of extracting methane and oil from deep down in the rock shale. Companies drill the way to sufficient depths and inject enormous quantities of chemically-laced boiling water, depending on the size and estimated quantities of non-renewable resource available underground.

Although methane gas derived from fracking is sold to the public as an alternative clean burning gas, known by the more soothing organic sound of “natural gas”, its extraction is not so clean, producing many toxic gases and compounds.

While fracking produces ten times more wastewater per unit harvested than conventional petroleum drilling, it also produces thirty times more natural gas, justifying its practice among fracking supporters.

The main problem associated with fracking is that the chemical-laced water can mix with fresh water sources underground. Fracking relies exclusively on the reflux of liquids that come to the surface along with the natural gas and other dirty compounds, such as endocrine disrupters. However, such waste can sprout for years on end after the initial drilling, making it a long-term environmental responsibility to anyone going into the fracking business.

Recent discoveries bumped-up the estimated Brazilian natural gas reserve from 32 trillion cubic feet (TCF) to 208 TCF, putting Brazil on the world’s top ten list for biggest estimated natural gas reserves.

Fracking will be tested on three sedimentary basins in the country, namely: Vale do Parnaíba (MG), Parecis (MT) and Recôncavo (BA). According to EcoDebate, Shell, Petra and Fortress Energy are some of the companies interested in fracking the reserves.

The National Petroleum Agency (ANP) in Brazil guarantees that no contamination will be produced from fracking because they have learned from the errors of other countries like the United States. This ingenuous statement made by Olavo Colela, the ANP board spokesman, makes it seem as if the underground water paths where mapped and sealed, but who can guarantee such a hermetic perfection?

Wastewater treatment is essential in the process and companies sell themselves on their technological innovation. Brazil does not have enough wastewater treatment systems to clean up their sewage, how on earth will companies clean-up the brine-laced wastewater from fracking activities?

According to biologist Mario Moscatelli, there are unreported oil leaks taking place everywhere in the State of Rio that get little national attention and media coverage. Will wastewater produced from fracking activities be controlled in some of the off the maps places where they plan to drill?

Sewage water can be transformed into biological gas for the production of electricity. Wastewater also contains minerals and metals, and even expensive pharmaceuticals that can be extracted and sold back to the public who flushed it down the toilet. Letting valuable resources literally flow into the ocean seems to be the status-quo in Brazil, not its recovery.

Why not invest in recovering these items from our waste instead of creating another stream of potentially harmful residues? Maybe we still have some cavemen among us…


Alfonso Stefanini has an MA in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and a BA from Hampshire College. Alfonso lives in Rio de Janeiro, and he can be reached at: Ecobrasilis@gmail.com.


  1. Alfonso,
    Thanks for posting on Transition Regions. The answer seems to be to wait till dry or thermo fracking comes along or perhaps the companies need to hydro-frack the shalebeds first. If so I’d wish they’d say so as the public deserves to know. Meanwhile we have to assess it as we see it; a real risk to local ecology and water resources while offering little in return bu an unsustainable short terms shalegas boom, which is why I’m arguing for the affected regions to be first treated as Transition Regions for planning purposes. If we can move the transition outward form these regions to the nation states as a whole we’ll have achieved something fantastic.
    The quantities of gas at stake seem to be huge and brav for Brazil should they prove recoverable through sustainable means. But the entire economy and patterns of production and consumption need to be transitioned too. Meanwhile Fractivists have the tiger by the tail so to speak.
    I admire your take on recovery from waste. The Reduce, Reuse and Recycle maxim needs to be recovered itself and re-floated. I’ve already begun this in my own way by putting a reedbed filtration system at my septic tank outfall. I’ve two wet and one dry trench at the top to catch sediment. Once a year round about now I barrow out the sediment trench into my biomass sally garden which ensures all the nutrients from my waste are retained on site aiding and abetting the process of carbon sequestration going on in my biomass border – or Sally Garden (Sallix being Willows or colloquially in Ireland ‘Sallies’).
    I’ve a funny feeling Brazil is going to lead the way in lots of ways but please God it will respect its Indigenous Tribes and Peoples and ensure they play a lead role in the preservation of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest.

  2. Parabéns, seu artigo é exatamente correto. I am a student and environmental activist living in the middle of the fracking boom in the Midwestern (Ohio) United States. The greed and false promises of jobs offered by the oil and gas industry is corrupting our educational and political systems, while too loose legislation is corrosively eating away at our primarily agricultural economy. In fact, this week there were reports that thousands of gallons of “fracked” water was intentionally and illegally dumped into a major river which leads to the Mississippi and then into the Gulf of Mexico.

    The majority of problems in our state result from the disposal of this water, which in my and many others (but not of the leading politicians in our state) believe is not worth the promise of over inflated job promises (with estimates as far as 5-10 thousand jobs off, unless you count far-reaching downstream jobs) and cheaper natural gas.



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