Friday, July 24, 2009

The Politics of Energy #5 - CHILE: Geothermal Debate Simmers in El Tatio

ENERGY-CHILE: Geothermal Debate Simmers in El Tatio
Daniela Estrada - IPS/IFEJ

SANTIAGO, Jul 23 (IPS) - El Tatio geyser field, a tourist destination in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta, is at the heart of a controversy over a geothermal energy project being developed four kilometres away. The entire area is claimed by Atacama indigenous communities, who now stand divided."

For us, the geysers are the fountain of life," Julio Ramos, president of the Council of Lickan Antay-AtacameƱo Peoples, an umbrella group of 25 communities, told this reporter.

El Tatio is the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere and the third largest in the world, with more than 100 springs erupting at an altitude of more than 4,000 metres in the Andes Mountains.

Chile is rich in geothermal energy due to its location on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Geothermal heat is used to produce some 9,000 megawatts worldwide, with the United States, the Philippines and Mexico leading the way. Various measurements indicate Chile's potential geothermal energy production at 3,000 megawatts.

El Tatio, located in the community of Calama and owned by the Ministry of National Assets, was declared an area of touristic interest in 2002. But because the territory is claimed by the indigenous communities, in 2006, its administration was handed over to two native villages: Toconce and Caspana.

"What they have told us is that they are carrying out the perforations following all imposed restrictions, and that there has not been - as the scientific analyses anticipated - any negative impact on the geysers or water availability," Tokman said in an interview for this article.

However, the indigenous groups opposed to the project, backed by environmental organisations, local authorities and tourism operators, are convinced that sooner or later the energy project will pollute surface and underground water sources, threatening the geysers and harming vegetation and animals.

*This story is part of a series of features on sustainable development by Inter Press Service (IPS) and the International Federation of Environmental Journalists (IFEJ), for the Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development.

Inter Press Service News Agency

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