An investigation by the Guardian and Friends of the Earth has uncovered documents that show the UK is planning to make £1billion ready for investment in Argentina’s controversial oil shale industry, money that was meant to be for green energy projects.

In 2017 loans from UK Export Finance were promised to UK companies investing in Argentinian infrastructure, green energy, and healthcare. However, a Freedom of Information Request by Friends of the Earth shows that money is instead going to big oil companies such as Shell and BP to help them develop fracking operations in Argentina’s huge Vaca Muerta oil fields.

One government memo said that it was “Argentina’s huge shale resources that offer the greatest potential” for Britain.

Separate records also seen by Friends of the Earth showed that there have been 13 meetings between the UK government and oil companies operating in the Vaca Muerta. These companies include Shell, Pan American Energy, a subsidiary of BP, Andina Resources and Phoenix Global Resources.

Meanwhile, the same records show that there have to date been no meetings between the UK government and renewable energy companies operating in Argentina. One of the largest cash handouts was for £346,000 to support Pan American Energy in the 2017-18 financial year.

 Despite the past conflict between the UK and Argentina over the disputed Falkland Islands, Argentina has welcomed UK owned oil companies to help develop the Vaca Muerta and hopes to replicate the US shale energy revolution on its own soil.

The British decision to offer Argentina money is part of a wider process, which has seen £2billion shelled out in support of the fossil fuel industry.

But these moves are strongly opposed by British lawmakers on the environmental audit committee who have criticised the UK’s fossil fuel investments as being incompatible with the UK government’s commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The British are due to host a global climate summit in Glasgow next year and Friends of the Earth have warned the UK government that they will be expected to show global leadership.

“Boris Johnson’s pledge to lead the world in slashing climate-wrecking pollution will be meaningless if his government continues to back the exploitation of massive oil and gas developments in Argentina,” Tony Bosworth, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told the Guardian.

Fracking Already Causing Environmental Destruction

Another Guardian investigation earlier this month revealed that the shale gas industry in the Vaca Muerta has already caused irreversible damage to the area, which is the home of the indigenous Mapuche people. The Vaca Muerta field is the world’s second-largest gas field and the fourth largest of unconventional oil.

Although the oil fields in the area have been operated by the Argentinian company YPF for many years, since 2013, they have been joined by Chevron and since then many more global oil majors including Shell and Total.

When the first deal was signed between the Argentinians and Chevron in 2013, widespread protests by the Mapuche who were upset that their lands were being opened up to the global oil and gas industry were met by riot police who used rubber bullets and teargas.

Since then the Mapuche have suffered considerably. Just a day after the protests when the deal with Chevron was signed a building built by the Mapuche to monitor the activities of the oil and gas companies in the area burned down in suspicious circumstances in what many concluded was an intentional fire. Then there was just one fracking extraction site and just a year later dozens of them had sprung up.

Five years later, a 2018 lawsuit alleged that fracking activities were putting the lives of local communities in danger and that amongst other issues, toxic waste was being stored that risked contaminating the local water supply and violated local regulations.

At the same time as this lawsuit was filed, another oil spill leaked into the environment for 36 hours and after this, workers were banned from taking smartphones on-site, for fear that they would continue to expose the bad practices of the oil companies. It has also been proven from satellite photos that there has been a sustained loss of vegetation from when fracking began in earnest in 2013. Most recently in September, an oil fire burned for three weeks next to a freshwater lake.

Photo from

Edward Cowley