NZ’s environmental watchdog, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, announced today that her office will conduct an official investigation into fracking. Here’s her full statement:
Initial scoping work being done on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has been stepped up to an official investigation.
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, says the preliminary work indicated there is a need to examine the issue more closely.
“The work that has been done by my office thus far shows a substantive case for an official investigation under the Environment Act.
“Over the next few months my staff and I will conduct this investigation and produce a report to Parliament.
“I realise this is a hugely contentious issue and I would hope to have a report tabled in the House before the end of this year.”
The Green Party proposes a moratorium on any further fracking in NZ until the review is completed.
National Business Review reports as follows:
The Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand, an oil industry lobby group, welcomed the decision as “an opportunity to dispel mistruths”.
“As an industry we have nothing to hide and everything to gain from participating in an open and honest dialogue with all interested parties,” said PEPANZ chief executive David Robinson.
“The practice of hydraulic fracturing has occurred in oil and natural gas reservoirs in Taranaki since 1993 in 28 wells. In that time there have been no incidents of drinking water contamination, land contamination or earthquakes linked to hydraulic fracturing.
“We are confident that this inquiry will dispel misinformation about the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing and will show what great lengths the industry goes to ensure the practice is done safely with proper precaution taken,” he said.
The Regional Council issued this media release, noting that they had endorsed and now welcome the PCE study, but that they also had a legal obligation to process any consent applications that appeared on their doorstep.
Given that the industry views the inquiry as a positive opportunity, the appropriate step for TAG Oil/Apache to take in Hawke’s Bay would be to accept this delay, and either not file its expected consent applications with the HBRC at this time, or, make its applications public, but allow them to lie on the table by mutual agreement with the HBRC until the review is completed.
With the latter option, members of the public would have the opportunity to study the applications, inform themselves about the details of the applicant’s plans, and prepare eventual responses. Making their plans public in the detail required by the consenting process would be a public-spirited gesture, giving needed credence to the industry’s apparent embracing of transparency.
It would seem rather foolish that the PCE would regard the public interest concerns as so large as to warrant a full investigation, yet TAG/Apache/HBRC would proceed as though nothing is happening that might fundamentally alter the
playing drilling field.
The PCE might well find that fracking poses such hazards as to not be worth the risks here in New Zealand. Or it could conclude that ‘best practices’ — appropriately mandated and rigorously monitored and enforced — mitigate the dangers sufficiently to allow the process.
In fact, major environmental groups in the States have reluctantly accepted, for now at least, the strong mitigation approach, only on the grounds that fracking is used there mainly to produce natural gas, which is deemed a ‘better’ (i.e., cleaner) energy source than the coal that would otherwise be burned and foul the air (and atmosphere) much worse. A lesser of two evils trade-off not necessarily relevant here in NZ.
Of course the PCE’s findings and recommendations will be just that — recommendations that the Government may take aboard in whole or in part … or not. NBR quotes Energy Minister Heatley saying that the review would “enable us to consider all our options around fracking, from the consenting process through to work in the field.”
In either event, a course has now been initiated — one championed by environmentalists — whose result those opposed to fracking will need to accommodate.
For its part, the HBRC can sigh with relief. More likely than not, the rules governing fracking, if it is to be continued, will be set by central government once the PCE review is completed. HBRC’s role will be limited to administration — applying and monitoring compliance with those rules if consenting does proceed in Hawke’s Bay. As it should be, given that conceiving a comprehensive regulatory regime from scratch is out of their technical depth.
P.S. Ann Michelle and Angela Hair, representing Don’t Frack the Bay, presented well to the DHB today on the health concerns associated with fracking. DHB Chairman ask that they provide supporting info to the DHB, with the expectation that the public health staff would prepare advice for the Board.