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.

Tom Belford

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.

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4 Comments

  1. The Green Party wants a moritorium on, or an official enquiry into eveything that is proposed in this country.

    Unless they come up with some economic policy that would advance this great nation and fund the Social Welfare system, then I believe we should take little notice of their protestations or be take seriously.

    Having worked in the mining industry and recommended the issuing of consents for petroleum and mining exploration, I do have some knowledge on the subject.

    What would you say if we were still using Liverpool coal (for the uninitiated, that is West Coast, South Island) to produce coal gas at the plant in the centre of Hastings where Kennards is today?

    No, we had consortiums with foresight to explore for petroleum and gas at Kapuni and Maui which was to cause the demise for the West Coast coal industry………….Where was the protestation for that exploration?

    Fracking is just another fashionable excuse for the greenies to squeal again, even though it has been happening here for 28 years or so.

    I bet those who are making the most noise on this subject have not been on this earth for 28 years or have been in this great country for as long.

  2. Roger @ 7:59

    Your comments are offensive and are indicitave of the level to which those who wish to put our aquafiers at risk stoop to. You remind me of a pertulant 14 year old who not being able to win an arguement resorts to name calling and generalisations.

    The Green party does not want an official inquiry into everything that is proposed in this country, only those things that deserve to be fully investigated.

    Those that have presenting the arguements in favour of protecting our aquifers and environment such as Pauline Elliott and Greg Hart are all well past the age of 28.

    I am pleased that the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is going to complete a study into fracking as her findings will not be ensconced in name calling and borish behaviour as yours are.

  3. Tom, in response to your piece about fracking: I'm very pleased there is to be an enquiry. But I wonder what will happen if it comes out in favour of fracking in NZ, e.g. based on " … ‘best practices’ — appropriately mandated and rigorously monitored and enforced …".

    For one thing, I've noticed a relative absence of discussion about the impact on our landscape of propagating wells. Listening to the TAG presentation at the Regional Council could lead us to think there would be only a few, mostly out of sight. But why would the oil companies stop at a few when there's money to be made from the lovely stuff still under the ground? Can we envisage a landscape littered with these wells and their network of transportation roads? If anyone has some doubts about this, go and see the film 'Gasland' (at the Havelock North Function Centre). It's not a pretty sight and it horrifies me to think of Hawke's Bay and New Zealand coming to look like this.

    A long term view is needed and a transition away from oil dependency is inevitable – so let's put our resources into that, starting yesterday – no hurry!

    Yours, a 'well-over-28-year-old' .

  4. I have many concerns regarding the prospect of the oil industry drilling and fracking in our area. The more research I do the more my concerns grow. We are constantly being fed the carefully crafted spin of the oil companies eg.- no "reported" incidents, 50/50 chance that fracking will be required here etc. On the other side there are many reports from people directly affected by their actions, scientific data daily emerging and countries and states putting bans and moratoriums on this practice of fracking. They can't all be stupid! Anecdotal data is relevant. After it was the first science and civilization would not have progressed to where it is today without it. So why are the many reports from people directly affected being rubbished? I have before me now a long list of incidents from gas wells. I have Googled oil and gas accidents and just between 2000 and now there have been many incidents. There are a number of gas and oil leaks occurring right now. The aerial and satellite photos of drilling and fracking sites clearly show this is not the place for this industry. We are about producing food. Food is the industry which does and will long term provide the jobs in our region. Oil is a short term boom. Clean water and quality soil are vital to our food industry. we can't afford to jeopardise either. Besides how do you define "best practice?"

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