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Algeria faces the frackers

No water, but plenty of shale in Algeria No water, but plenty of shale in Algeria Vojko Kavcic
15 Jul
2015
Algeria’s plans to develop fracking are meeting with local resistance

Algeria has always had a successful oil industry, but the country also has a wealth in shale gas reserves.

The International Energy Agency reports that there are 231 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas in Algeria, which is enough to keep the European Union supplied for a decade. At current prices that adds up to £1.6trillion. The country needs to drill around 400 test wells in order to determine if shale gas will be economically viable, according to the Environmental Justice Atlas.

Algeria has the fourth largest shale gas reserves in the world, according to a report from the Overseas Development Institute. Companies involved in the exploration programme include state-owned Sonatrach, Eni from Italy, France’s Total Group, BP and Halliburton.

Sonatrach announced in January plans to invest £44.9billion in Algeria’s shale gas reserves.

nappe fossile eau algerie Algeria’s underground water reserves. Note the protest site In-Salah in the south-west (Image: Platform London)

In some ways, Algeria is more fortunate than other nations contemplating fracking. ‘Shale production often comes with complications, though some of them will be less pertinent in Algeria,’ says a report from the Oxford Business Group. ‘One that has been important in Europe that is not as relevant to Algeria is the impact fracking would have on protected areas. The basins in Algeria extend to Morocco and Libya, but are in largely unpopular areas.’

The report goes on to note that there are concerns over delicate desert ecosystems. Finding sufficient water to frack in a desert environment will be a challenge, A well usually requires 7,000 to 15,000 cu of water, according to the report.

But not all Algerians are enthusiastic about plans to exploit shale gas reserves. Pilot wells dug near the town of Ain Salah in southern Algeria provoked a riot that injured 90, and led to 23 arrests in March, according to Oil Change International.

‘Everyone in the world knows that this is dangerous and there are places in the west where this is forbidden,’ Fatiha Touni, a schoolteacher involved in the protests, told Oil Change International. ‘We are not people to be experimented on. All we have is our water – we need it to water our crops and feed our animals.’

ALGERIA – THE GROUND VIEW

Algeria spent the 1990s engaged in a ferocious civil war between government forces and Islamist rebels. But it has largely avoided the turmoil seen in many Arab countries following the Arab Spring, in part because the government and rebels were forced to reach an accommodation.

‘I was expecting kind of a post-conflict society,’ said Joan Polaschik, US ambassador to the country, speaking to WTOP in Washington. ‘Life there is really normal. People are out and about shopping, going to restaurants.’

But the country has seen some residual instability. An attack on an oil facility in 2013 saw al-Qaeda-linked terrorists seize a natural gas facility, with 39 foreign hostages taken.

One factor that might contain anti-fracking protests in the country is the desire to maintain stability after a protracted civil war. ‘For Algerians, banality is thus a precious gift that must be protected. That explains why regular Algerians expressed little interest in the Arab Spring,’ notes Geoff D Porter, in an analysis for Foreign Policy.

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