Anti-fracking uprising in Ain Salah, Algeria

As a desert oasis, Ain Salah relies on a sensitive aquifer system now overlapping with at least four intensive shale gas fields. From the start of 2015, huge anti-fracking protests erupted, some sustained for more than 5 months despite brutal repression.

Before shale gas the In Salah gas joint venture was already one of the largest dry gas joint-venture projects in the country. The first phase of development by BP started in July 2004, developing the largest three fields. The second stage, the In Salah Southern Fields project, came on line in February 2016, to maintain plateau production by developing the remaining four field (1). Sonatrach’s first two vertical shale exploratory wells drilled in 2012 confirmed the potential for shale gas. Since 2014, Sonatrach has been engaged in a pilot project in the shale gas rich Ahnet basin to drill, hydraulically fracture, and analyse three horizontal wells with up to 14 hydraulic fracturing stages. Already in December 2009, Total won a tender to acquire a 49% interest in the ‘Ahnet exploration and exploitation license’, with the greater part going to the Algerian company Sonatrach. Total expected drilling to begin in 2015, for an estimated 700 million barrels of oil (3). A new hydrocarbons law enacted in 2013 made it legal to exploit shale gas in Algeria. Thus, the country commenced its shale programme in 2013 in Ain Salah, following an accord with French President Francois Hollande in December 2012. The accord gave France and its companies to explore shale gas in the country. In December 2013, Algeria’s National Oil Corporation announced its intentions to bolster the economy by allowing overseas corporations to commence fracking operations. As a desert oasis, Ain Salah relies on a sensitive aquifer system stretching from Southern Algeria to Tunisia and Libya, and overlapping with at least four intensive shale gas fields (2). Evidence was released exposing harmful pollution and contaminated water supplies, causing an uproar.. The threat of groundwater pollution from fracking is the greatest concern for local inhabitants, whose main source of income is derived from agriculture. Drilling of the first pilot shale wells in Ain Salah began in December 2014. From the start of 2015, huge protests erupted, some sustained for more than five months, despite facing repressive (inc. pre-emptive arrests) and co-opting measures from the Algerian government. There were violent confrontations  between police and up to 40,000 protestors (3).                         In January 2015, as the protests spread to Algiers, Total announced it would no longer be partaking in the Ahnet concession. On February 3rd 2015, local residents visited the drilling site and posted photos and videos on social media revealing the absence of facilities to treat water and drilling mud, contrary to official statements. They revealed the presence of chemicals such as Ezeflo110, sitting on pallets, rather than being stored securely, thereby proving Sonatrach’s inability to handle waste management and storage of lethal chemicals (4). Protesters demanded the halt of all operations of exploration for shale gas. An official request for a moratorium on shale gas was sent to President Bouteflika on February 21st 2015, co-signed by Algerian experts, asking for a national debate around the issue. In January 2016, the government announced it would halt exploitation due to very low oil prices (4).
Basic Data
Name Anti-fracking uprising in Ain Salah, Algeria
Province Tamanrasset Province, Algeria
Site Ain Salah (or In Salah) - Ahnet concession
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Oil and gas refining
Shale gas fracking
Specific CommoditiesCrude oil
Shale Gas
Natural Gas
Project Details and Actors
Project Details
Algeria, ranks third or fourth in the world in recoverable shale gas reserves, with more than 700tn cubic feet spread across six basins.
See more...
Level of Investment (in USD)70,000,000,000
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Population Desert populations relying on aquifer for livelihood
Start Date01/01/2015
End Date01/01/2016
Company Names or State EnterprisesSonatrach from Algeria
Total from France - In January 2015, as the protests spread to Algiers, Total announced it would no longer be partaking in the Ahnet concession.
Halliburton from United States of America
Algeria’s National Oil Corporation from Algeria
British Petroleum (BP) from United Kingdom
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingLocal government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals

Unemployed groups, local teachers, scholars, experts

Unemployed groups, local teachers, scholars, experts
Local groups, teachers, scholars, experts
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Soil contamination, Waste overflow
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Infectious diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Increase in violence and crime
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseRepression
Strengthening of participation
Project temporarily suspended
Development of AlternativesThe economic issue stands side-by-side with the environmental one, as civil society searches for better ways of living sustainably outside of the control of corrupt foreign multinationals and a distant government.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The decision to halt exploitation was publicly announced as coming as a result of low prices, rather than conceding victory to protesters.

It is important to also bear in mind that exploitation has been halted, not altogether folded. Thus, many in Ain Salah remain vigilant.
Sources and Materials

Official request for a moratorium
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(1) BP Website. BP in Algeria
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(2) Alexander Reid Ross (2015). Algeria: fracking and the Ain Salah uprising. The Ecologist.14 March 2015
[click to view]

(3) Observatoire des Multinationales (2015). Total et le gaz de schiste Algerien. March 2015.
[click to view]

(4) Hamza Hamouchene (2016). The Struggle for Energy Democracy in the Maghreb. Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.
[click to view]


Energy Global. Attracting hydrocarbons investment in Algeria.
[click to view]

Other Documents

Algerian demonstrators stage a sit-in on March 5 at Soumoud Square [Getty Images]
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Protests against fracking in Ain Salah (photo: Billal Bensalem/ABACAPRESS.COM)
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Women of Ain Salah leading the protest on Tuesday 24 February 2015. Credit: BBOY LEE Photos.
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Meta Information
ContributorPlatform London
Last update17/03/2017
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