Mexico: fracking wins in disputed ‘energy reform’

The Mexican Chamber of Deputies voted 353-134 on Dec. 12 to approve a series of constitutional amendments providing the groundwork for President Enrique Peña Nieto's controversial "energy reform." The Chamber's vote completed the amendments' passage through Congress, since the Senate had approved the measures on Dec. 10. The required ratification of the changes by 17 of the 32 state legislatures is considered certain, since the main sponsors of the "reform," the governing centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the center-right National Action Party (PAN), dominate the majority of state legislatures.

Opponents call President Peña Nieto's program a de facto privatization of the state-owned oil and electrical companies, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and the Federal Energy Commission (CFE). In addition to street demonstrations outside the building in Mexico City, the Chamber of Deputies debate on Dec. 11 and 12 was marked by theatrics inside, led by deputies from the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the small leftist Labor Party (PT). Opposition deputies seized the podium at times, occasionally advising "reform" supporters to privatize their own mothers. While speaking against the amendments, PRD deputy Antonio García Conejo stripped down to his underwear to dramatize his claim that the measures would strip Mexico of its resources. At one point PRD deputy Karen Quiroga punched PRI deputy Landy Berzunza Novelo, who was taken to the infirmary. (La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 12, Dec. 13Milenio, Mexico, Dec.12)

By Dec. 15 the constitutional amendments had already been ratified by 13 state legislatures. As in Mexico City, the votes in the states brought out demonstrations by activists, many from the newly formed center-left National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party. In the western state of Jalisco riot police used tear gas to keep protesters from storming into the legislature, while legislators in the southeastern state of Campeche met in an alternative location to avoid the demonstrations. (LJ, Dec. 15)

Despite the controversy, there has been little debate over the environmental impact of the changes, which will expand the involvement of foreign-owned multinationals using newer technologies such as deep-sea drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and hydraulic fracturing ("hydrofracking") in the Eagle Ford shale formation in northern Mexico. Shortly before the congressional vote the Mexican Alliance Against Fracking issued a statement warning of the dangers. "Mexico should follow the example of other countries, such as France and Bulgaria, where hydraulic fracturing is currently prohibited under a strict precautionary principle," the group wrote. (Frontera NorteSur, Dec. 14,via Newspaper Tree, El Paso, Texas)

The US newspaper Investor's Business Daily had a different view. The new energy policy "now makes North America the world's oil and gas powerhouse," the paper wrote in an editorial. "Credit the fracking revolution." The editors said that with the changes—"Mexico's biggest shift since the mighty North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA], signed [into law in the US] 20 years ago this month"—Peña Nieto "seals his legacy, as North America solidifies its position as the world's biggest and most advanced oil producer. Let the revolution begin." (IBD, Dec. 12) 

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, December 15.