Fracking issue to go before council

By Corey Charlton

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The issue of fracking will go before the Hawke's Bay Regional Council again soon, this time as a councillor-tabled motion.

Councillor Liz Remmerswaal has submitted a motion, most likely to be heard at next week's meeting, asking the regional council to call for an independent study to be undertaken by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

It also asks for the council to give an assurance that all consents it may issue will be publicly notified and include all chemicals and quantities to be used.

Fracking is the process of pushing a chemical and water mix at high pressure into rock deep underground, fracturing it to release oil or gas.

Apache Corporation and TAG Oil have formed a joint venture partnership to explore for oil on the East Coast, and have just completed seismic testing at a site on Boar Hill in the Porangahau region. If consents are received from the council, they will have clearance to frack. The process of fracking has been linked to environmental issues overseas, including groundwater pollution and an increased frequency of earthquakes.

Ms Remmerswaal said in a food- producing region such as Hawke's Bay, it was important to ensure water sources were not going to be affected by drilling activities.

"There are examples overseas where fracking fluid can contain toxic chemicals which has polluted groundwater," she said. "There are risks involved in it and there are also problems involved in dealing with contaminated water when it comes up again."

During the fracking process some of the chemicals and water mixture used below ground is brought back up to the surface to be disposed of. Apache has said it will use injection sites in Taranaki for disposal.

"From an economic point of view it's very important, we have to be 100 per cent certain that this is the right way to go. We need to keep ahead of the game and just be very careful," Ms Remmerswaal said.

"As a council we are responsible for how we respond to the requests for consent."

Otane farmer Greg Hart, who organised an anti-fracking rally in January, welcomed the proposal.

"There is lots of information about issues that have popped up around the world. It just makes sense to err on the side of caution, given that we have so much to lose," he said.

Apache and TAG Oil hope to lodge consents within the next few weeks. Until these are lodged and their planned activities are confirmed, the regional council cannot say if they will be notifiable.

But the council has provided advice to TAG and Apache on some activities that may require consent. These include: drilling wells; discharge of drilling fluids; works close to river beds, such as soil disturbance, access structures and associated vegetation clearance for site access and establishment; taking of water from streams or groundwater; discharge of contaminants into the ground from hydraulic fracturing; discharge to air from the flaring of any gases or oil; discharge of other waste products to land, water or air.

Apache regulatory affairs advisor Alex Ferguson said the company would have no problem providing information for a independent inquiry.

"I have no problems with anyone doing an independent inquiry or study or review on any aspect of oil operations," he said. "If asked, we would be willing to provide information or data."

Mr Ferguson also said they would provide full disclosure of the chemicals used in their activities.

A fracking petition currently circulating throughout Hawke's Bay will be presented to the council sometime in March. Organisers Don't Frack the Bay estimate it has so far received between 1500 and 2000 signatures.

The petition asks that "Hawke's Bay Regional Council agree to make hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for petroleum (oil & gas) a prohibited activity in the Hawke's Bay Region, until the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment reports to Parliament the findings of an inquiry into the practice of hydraulic fracturing in New Zealand."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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