Hastings is taking a "precautionary approach" to hydraulic fracturing but won't move to ban the controversial underground exploration method which could tap into "a trillion dollars" worth of oil and gas resources under Hawke's Bay.
The council met yesterday to begin making decisions on more than 600 public submissions handed in as part of its triennial review of its long-term plan. About 30 submissions, 20 made in person, asked the council to declare Hastings "frack free" and take a leadership role to protect the Heretaunga Plains and its underground aquifer.
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said: "I am told there is a trillion dollars of oil and gas resources under Hawke's Bay which is huge. On one hand we have this massive economic opportunity for our region, to provide jobs for our people," Mr Yule said.
"But we can't risk the life blood of this community and risk the aquifer being ruined, contaminated by exploration methods."
Mr Yule is the first public figure or businessman in the region to come out publicly and put a figure on what economic benefit fracking could have for the region.
Mr Yule did not clarify where the amount had come from.
He said the council must represent "the views of its population" but it could not consider taking a harder line until staff had a chance to review the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's report into fracking.
The report was likely to be finished in six months, the council was told by its staff.
Mr Yule said he was keen for oil companies to show or find an exploration method which did not put the aquifer at risk or one that could manage the environmental affects.
"I would like to explore those options to get that trillion dollars out of the region."
The council was told US oil company Apache had withdrawn its plan to explore in Central Hawke's Bay but had a licence from the Government to explore the entire Hawke's Bay region.
Hawke's Bay Regional Council was responsible for considering applications for oil and gas exploration.
No applications had been made for the Hastings district but Hastings councillors agreed they had to declare what stance they would take if one was handed into to the regional council. It would "advocate to protect the Heretaunga Plains" and take a "precautionary approach" to any activity including fracking that had the potential to affect the resources of the plains.
Mr Yule said there was already an environmental watching brief on Roy's Hill, the former landfill now public park near Fernhill, which was built over the aquifer.
"At the moment it is fine but if that leaks (into the aquifer) we are going to have to fix it. We know it's a liability, may not be for 100 years but at some stage we may be well have to look at it so we need to be really careful."