Fracking rules likely to be tightened

Environment commissioner not expected to call for moratorium opponents want on gas extraction technique.

The process of hydraulic fracturing has been used in New Zealand since 1989. Photo  / NZ Herald
The process of hydraulic fracturing has been used in New Zealand since 1989. Photo / NZ Herald

The verdict on fracking in New Zealand is due tomorrow, but the arguments about it will continue.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright's 78-page report is seen as unlikely to impose the moratorium sought by some opponents but new controls are likely.

She said in March the preliminary work her office had done indicated there was a need to examine the "hugely contentious" issue more closely.

Tomorrow's report is an interim one - so debate will continue - and options include a ban on fracking until environmental concerns are dealt with, through to a range of new regulations and rules over more disclosure.

Moves towards uniformity among councils approving fracking is likely to be addressed, as are concerns about the disposal and transport of waste fluid.

During the past three years the debate has become increasingly vehement and colourful.

Opponents have pushed images of flames exploding from water taps, and said fracking can cause earthquakes and even volcanic eruptions.

Fracking's backers claim an anti-fracking Hollywood movie is a part of a conspiracy by Middle Eastern oil exporters to kneecap the US domestic exploration industry, and one Halliburton boss last year took a swig of fracking fluid in an attempt to dispel fears about its threat to health.

Although hydraulic fracturing has been used in this country since 1989 and for at least 50 years in the United States, it was publicity around the 2010 movie GasLand with its disputed flaming tap image that propelled it into the limelight as the scale of operations surged.

"You can build in a lot of emotional language around it - you can understand why it got the momentum," said David Robinson, chief executive of the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association.

He was confident Wright would follow findings this year of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering which found fracking could be managed effectively in Britain - with regulation.

Paul Moore, Todd Energy's executive vice-president of upstream energy and resources agrees: "I wouldn't be surprised to see some kind of changes but I'm not expecting a moratorium."

Fracking helps release natural gas and oil deposits, that would otherwise be uneconomical or impossible to recover, by pumping large volumes of mainly water and sand at high pressure through a wellbore into deeply buried gas-bearing rock.

Regulation and public education to dispel hysteria was the key, said Moore.

Todd used fracking on two of its onshore wells where gas is deep and in tight rock formations. The wells cost up to $30 million each including $5 million to $7 million on fracking to stimulate the gas.

It was routine around the world.

"I've been involved in doing this for 30 years - it's not like flying to the moon."

Opponents remain concerned about ground water being contaminated and difficulties with disposing of waste fluid.

Green Party environment spokesman Gareth Hughes said it was prudent to put in place a moratorium on fracking until it could be guaranteed to be done safely and there were strong regulations in place.

"Fracking can be done poorly and has caused problems both overseas and in New Zealand."

Is it safe?

For
* Fracking occurs deep below the water table so fluids cannot get
into the sources of drinking water.
* Unlocking natural gas this way can make a significant contribution to NZ's economic future and the security of electricity supply.
* All hydraulic fracturing operations in NZ can be controlled by existing laws and regulations.
* No evidence of links to earthquakes
Source: Pepanz

Against
* Contaminated waste water has been disposed of in risky ways.
* Air pollution caused by fracking may contribute to health problems.
* Little is known about human-induced earthquakes.
* Light regulation has led to numerous incidents and practices which are not up to scratch.
Source: Green Party Grant Bradley energy.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 31 Jul 2014 22:09:36 Processing Time: 512ms