On shaky ground: Mexico’s prospective shale boom will be a long time coming

634px-Rig_wind_riverThe Economist, 5/2/14

AVELARDO GÁRZA GARCIA’S face splits into a grin as he remembers the moment, a few months ago, when the exploratory well behind his house produced a roaring flame, indicating that his family’s cattle ranch sat on a reserve of shale gas. “I heard a loud ‘puff’ and the flame shot 15 feet into the air,” he says. He telephoned his 14 brothers and sisters to tell them the good news. “I thought ‘muuucho dinero’,” he says, patting his pockets.

If he lived just a few hours north in Texas, he might indeed be sitting on a jackpot. But things are never so easy in Mexico. In the weeks afterwards, the area around his home suffered an unusual spate of earthquakes. In nearby villages, locals point to cracks in their walls and say they have never felt anything like it. Sergio Gómez, mayor of the municipality of Los Ramones, says the tremors have shaken people’s confidence in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”—even if there is no scientific proof that the two are related.

Only two shale wells have been dug in Los Ramones (and fewer than 25 in all of Mexico), compared with thousands in nearby south Texas, which has barely sustained any quake damage despite the “shale revolution”. But already the jokes fly. “Visitors used to stay away from here because of thenarcos,” says one woman. “Now it’s because of the petroleros.”

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