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Virtual reality shows how fracking affects Argentinian river basin

Students and teachers from the National University of Comahue in Argentina recently participated in a virtual reality exhibit intended to show how local fracking operations in the Vaca Muerta region might affect local water supply.

SEI scientists partnered with the university to produce the immersive and informative tool.

Argentina’s Río Negro news site featured the project.

Published on 1 May 2023
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Laura Forni /

A pipeline under construction stretches across an arid landscape beneath a blue sky in Vaca Muerta, Argentina

Photo: Editorial RF / Getty Images

A recent research conference at Argentina’s National University of Comahue (UNCo) featured a new virtual reality (VR) experience that allows users to explore how local unconventional hydrocarbon production, known as fracking, affect the water supply in the Comahue river basin.

SEI scientists Laura Forni, Romina Díaz Gómez and Marina Mautner are working together with UNCo on the research, which was featured in a news article about the virtual reality project in Río Negro.

Argentina’s Vaca Muerta region, located in the Patagonian south, is home to the world’s second-largest shale gas reserves and the fourth-largest shale oil deposits, where gas production is outpacing the growth of infrastructure to accommodate it.

SEI and UNCo are investigating how this gas production might pose risks to the water supply, agricultural production, and the population that depends on them. The researchers use remote sensing, or scanning performed by satellites and high-flying aircraft, to map the fracking wells’ proximity to rivers, farms, neighborhoods and cities. That data informed the interactive VR exhibit, accessible by VR goggles, at UNCo’s conference.

“For the first time we are going to have all the information centralized and we are going to be able to visualize all the components at the level of the Comahue Basin,” Díaz Gómez told Río Negro.

As climate change progresses, the region’s water supply is expected to decline, while fracking increases the wastewater generated. The team’s research on this topic indicates that shale operations increase pressure on the water supply and pose a risk to water quality.

The researchers hope the VR project will help educate the public about fracking’s impact on local populations and ecosystems, as well as promote the use of remote sensing to produce such data.

Related working paper


Laura Forni

Acting Water Program Director


Romina Diaz-Gomez



Marina Mautner



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