Gareth Hughes: Fracking not a sensible choice for NZ

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Green MP Gareth Hughes responds to Nick Smith on fracking. Photo / File
Green MP Gareth Hughes responds to Nick Smith on fracking. Photo / File

Former Environment Minister Nick Smith needs to get his fracking facts right if he is to be taken seriously on the issue. His article 'Fracking the sensible choice for NZ' published in the NZ Herald and other papers across the country contains a serious misrepresentation.

In his article trying to 'inject some science and common sense into the debate' Smith has been caught out with his incorrect comment that 'geothermal energy resources in the upper North Island that can be developed only with fracking' and that the Greens were hypocritical campaigning for green jobs when our fracking stance would kill the geothermal industry.

He's been rebuffed by a highly credible source. Brian White, the Executive Officer of the New Zealand Geothermal Association commented on Smith's article online saying "We do not want the New Zealand geothermal industry to be misrepresented in this debate' and 'While certain similarities exist between drilling for oil and gas and drilling for geothermal resources, hydraulic fracturing is NOT used in the New Zealand geothermal industry.'

It does Smith no credit to be misrepresenting facts to advance his Government's pro-fracking agenda.
The fact that no fracking has been used in the New Zealand geothermal electricity sector has been long established. Fracking has been used overseas in a new geothermal process called Enhanced Geothermal Systems, (EGS) but EGS has never been used in New Zealand or by any New Zealand company.

Smith in his article also focuses on fracking-induced earthquakes and misrepresents the Green Party as focusing on this issue primarily. That is not and has never been the case. International science from credible sources such as the US geologic Survey has certainly proven a link between small earthquakes and fracking and that's a big concern but it is not the main reason we are urging caution.

There's other more concerning risks associated with fracking like water pollution, inadequate waste disposal, air pollution and climate change. In Taranaki we have seen ground water contamination, and consents being beached, in Southland we've seen waste fracking water dumped in the local river and in Waikato a fracking operation by Solid Energy was undertaken without consent.

Internationally, there have been numerous problems associated with fracking and that is why we are seeing Government's and local authorities stepping up to their responsibilities and putting regional or nationwide bans or moratoria in place.

Germany, Bulgaria and France have said no to fracking and regions of the US, Australia and Canada have put a stop to the drilling practice. Where fracking is occurring, damaging effects are too, and governments and regional authorities around the world are waking up to this.

New Zealand is on the cusp of a large expansion of the fracking industry with permits that allow it currently covering 4.4 million hectares of land, with another 3 million being considered by the Government. In the past year we have seen a 170 per cent increase in the rate of new wells, compared with the average rate for the previous 18 years.

Our Government has a responsibility to protect the farmers, communities and local councils who have, as both the Government and the oil and gas industry have admitted, legitimate concerns. The majority of both sides of this argument admit that more information and research is needed on the New Zealand context of this debate.

The oil and gas isn't going anywhere, so what's the rush? The Government should wait until the parliamentary commissioner for the environment can assure the public that fracking is safe before allowing a massive fracking expansion to occur.

* Gareth Hughes is a Green MP.

- NZ Herald

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