Some of the earliest protests against fracking, and natural gas drilling, began here in Pennsylvania. They spread to New York, and then overseas to Europe. Like New York state, countries like France, Germany, and Bulgaria responded with fracking bans. Others like South Africa, have moratoriums. Now, the oil and gas rich nation of Algeria has grassroots protests bubbling up from the sands of the Sahara Desert. The demonstrations began earlier this month in the small town of In Salah. More from Vice News:
Residents of In Salah, a town of 36,000 that is located 750 miles south of the capital Algiers, have been protesting relentlessly since January 1 against the government’s proposed plans to extract shale gas through the use of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, following initial drilling tests in the region.
Last week, the protests spread to other cities across southern Algeria, and also to the northern coastal cities of Algiers and Oran. In a country where 60 percent of the national budget comes from oil revenue, the government has been trying to diversify its income stream by developing unconventional resources such as shale gas, which it says will aid in the country’s energy transition.
Algeria is the top natural gas producer in Africa, but has yet to tap it’s shale gas reserves through fracking. Its one of the largest natural gas suppliers to Europe, and is estimated to have the third largest shale gas reserve in the world. But there may be more at stake than the environment for the protesters.
Mansouria Mokhefi, a special advisor for the Middle East and the Maghreb at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI) and a professor at New York University in Paris, told VICE News that southern Algeria “has already been in turmoil for a year.” The region “has been rocked by all kinds of smuggling, but also by Islamist movements,” Mokhefi said.
With those issues as a backdrop, fracking opponents have continued to mobilize and grow their movement, which began January 1 when some 1,500 protesters staged a peaceful demonstration in In Salah. In the past few weeks, the protests have spread to neighboring towns and further north to various oases in the Algerian Sahara. According to reports, a 21-year-old demonstrator named Mohamed El Noui died January 4 during clashes with the police. Officials in Algiers banned a January 17 protest, but people still took to the streets last week in Oran and other northern towns.