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No Fracking in the Guaraní Aquifer in Uruguay


The Guaraní Aquifer is a natural reservoir of fresh water whose surface spreads beyond the borders of four countries: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. It  is said that it represents 20% of the world’s freshwater reserves.  In February 2012, ANCAP (The National Fuel, Alcohol and Portland Administration) granted US based Schuepbach Energy two contracts for hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation in the Piedra Sola and Salto concessions in Uruguay’s north basin. A few months later, the Australian oil company Petrel Energy bought 25% of Schuepbach Energy, increasing its stake to 51% one year after. According to Petrel’s, both concessions have a potential for unconventional (fracking) and conventional oil exploitation.

Despite the Uruguayan’s Government assertion that fracking isn’t part of the country’s plans for the near future, local citizen assemblies – mostly urban – and environmental organizations on both the Argentinian and Uruguayan sides of the border have initiated a struggle against oil activities in Piedra Sola and Salto concessions. They doubt Government’s goodwill and have been asking for a Law that bans fracking in Uruguay and for an immediate stop to all Petrel – Schuepbach activities in the north basin. Oil reservoirs and shales on both concessions are located under the Guaraní Aquifer and activists fear that exploration activities may open ground for its exploitation through fracking. According to them, this not only puts the aquifer in danger but also threatens the integrity of the nearby Salto Grande hydro dam.  In 2014, organized citizens from Concordia, Concepción del Uruguay, Chajarí, Federación and Colón in the Argentinian side of the border detained four trucks carrying equipment for the 2D seismic survey in the Piedra Sola and Salto concessions. The local police purportedly attacked them and some were arrested. Since then, local activists have been very active in denouncing onshore oil exploration through the Citizen’s Assemblies Union (UAC) and have managed to get support from several regional and national environmental associations. As a response to Petrel-Schuepbach drilling activities, these associations summoned hundreds of people who marched to the entry of one of the wells near the small village of Tambores in August 2017.

Two weeks later, they gathered at the city of Salto for the first regional forum in defense of the Guaraní Aquifer. At this moment, they denounced the usage of dangerous chemicals by Petrel-Schuepbach and accused Uruguay’s environmental bureau (DINAMA) of authorizing drilling activities without conducting adequate hearing procedures. Uruguayan legislation doesn’t require a thorough Environmental Impact Assessment for the exploratory activities being conducted. Nonetheless, the environmental report published by the concessionary and ANCAP mentions potential affectations to groundwater, including the Guaraní Aquifer.  The participants also agreed to further disseminate their concerns, strengthen their actions and increase pressure on authorities at both sides of the border. Following a 2010 agreement signed by all the countries who share the Guaraní Aquifer – where they pledged to use the resource in a sustainable way and to communicate any relevant information regarding activities that might compromise it – the associations present at the forum asked the Argentinian government to intercede with the Uruguayan counterpart.   So far, both local and national awareness brought up by these groups has sparkled a chain of bans on fracking by local municipalities in the Argentinian side of the border. The Entre Ríos province has also sanctioned a Law prohibiting unconventional exploitation of oil and gas. The Uruguayan government has also agreed to a moratorium on fracking, albeit activists aren’t willing to accept anything less than a ban on the procedure. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:No Fracking in the Guaraní Aquifer in Uruguay
State or province:Paysandú
Location of conflict:Paysandú
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Shale gas fracking
Specific commodities:Electricity
Natural Gas
Crude oil

Project Details and Actors

Project details

This is an Uruguayan-Argentinian conflict. In October 2012 Petrel acquired an interest in a large conventional and unconventional petroleum project in Uruguay. The project comprises two concessions, Piedra Sola and Salto, covering 3.5 million acres which are held under separate production sharing contracts.

Petrel's initial entry was acquired by a US$2.5 million investment for 25% of Schuepbach Energy International LLC (SEI), a private US company, holding the Piedra Sola and Salto concessions.

Project area:250
Level of Investment:2,500,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:2.000
Start of the conflict:2012
Company names or state enterprises:Schuepbach Energy Uruguay (SRL) from United States of America - owner
Petrel Energy from Australia - owner
Schlumberger from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Comisión de Industria, Energía y Minería de la Cámara de Diputados; Dirección Nacional de Medio Ambiente de Uruguay (Dinama); The National Fuel, Alcohol and Portland Administration;
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Coordinadora Ambiental Todas las Manos, COESUS Latinoamericana contra el Fracking, Foro Regional Contra el Fracking, Asociación Civil Ambientalista de Salto, Asamblea Ciudadana de Concordia, Asamblea Popular Ambiental Colón-Ruta 135, Foro Waj Mapu de Chajarí, Grupo Gensa de Paysandú, Paysandú Libre de Fracking, Paysandú Nuestro, Tacuarembó Por el Medio Ambiente, Argentina, América Latina, Rivera por la Vida Sustentable y el Agua, Uruguay Libre de Megaminería, Asociación Civil “Salteños en defensa de los bienes naturales”.

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Citizen assemblies (mostly urban)
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Other Environmental impacts, Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Other Environmental impactsPotential: Risk of earthquakes;
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
Development of alternatives:Beyond moratoria. The Uruguayan government announced the decision to support a moratorium on ‘fracking’ for four years. But for environmentalists, this is not a solution because it keeps that possibility latent. They are looking for the total prohibition.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:It is very soon to respond this question as the mobilisation and actions are very recent. However it seems that the strengthening of participation between activist from both countries Argentina and Uruguay will be very potent. The issue of climate change (because of GHG emissions) is also an argument, apart from damage to water sources.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Strategic Action Program(SAP) for Guarani Aquifer

Ante las exploraciones petroleras: Salteños se movilizarán en defensa del Acuífero Guaraní

Fracking: el Gobierno pone en peligro al Acuífero Guaraní

Diputados discuten tres proyectos de prohibición del fracking; Uruguay Libre confía en que haya acuerdo multipartidario.!

¿Podría el fracking ser una realidad en Uruguay?

Petrel Energy increases stake in Uruguay & Spain in deal with Schuepbach Energy

Entre Ríos se convirtió en la primera provincia en prohibir el fracking

Represión por denunciar fracking en Acuífero Guaraní

Denuncian que perforarán el Acuífero Guaraní en Uruguay y afectará a Entre Ríos

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Tacuarembó por el Medio Ambiente

Activistas de Argentina, Brasil y Uruguay marchan contra fracking, 2 agosto 2017

Other comments:The Guaraní Aquifer is not a heritage of a locality or a nation. Beyond even the four countries that share it, it constitutes a primordial value for humanity because of the gigantic reservoir of water it contains, its environment and the support of life on the planet.

Meta information

Contributor:ENVJustice Project
Last update18/08/2019



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