Bay MPs give assurances on fracking

By Mark Story, Lawrence Gullery

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Oil and gas exploration or extraction will not be allowed through Hawke's Bay's "significant aquifers", say Chris Tremain and Craig Foss.

The local MPs said they welcomed the Commissioner for the Environment's report released on Tuesday, in which fracking - for now - escaped the threat of a ban in New Zealand.

Both Mr Foss and Mr Tremain said the interim report found the environmental risks associated with fracking could be effectively managed, providing the best operational practices were implemented and enforced through regulation.

"Craig and I have been listening to the concerns expressed by our community particularly in regard to oil and gas exploration near our aquifers," Mr Tremain said. "As a result we have discussed these concerns with the Minister of Energy and Resources, Phil Heatley."

Mr Foss said he had confirmed that legislative provisions at the appropriate stage would "provide and ensure the appropriate management and protection of the region's water resources and significant aquifers, such as the Heretaunga and Ruataniwha Plains".

Federated Farmers said it believed the report would reduce unease over the controversial technique.

The organisation's energy spokesperson, Anders Crofoot, said Federated Farmers had kept an eye on commissioner Jan Wright's investigation into fracking because land-based mineral exploration often occurred on or near farmland.

"From what I have seen in the interim report, she has taken a considered look at fracking," Mr Crofoot said. "While hydraulic fracturing has been used in New Zealand since 1989, controversy has really only ignited over the past two years, if you excuse the pun. "From agriculture's perspective, we are most interested in land access issues and compensation. As well as what risks the technique may pose to ground and surface water."

He said Dr Wright found the distance between where fracking occurred and aquifers could be up to 2km.

"There are shallower fracks and I guess this underscores why the commissioner recommends a watching brief."

Federated Farmers felt "more comfortable" on the issue after reading her report.

"The PCE [Dr Wright] stresses we frack well in New Zealand but describes regulation and oversight as labyrinthine.

"Clearly, there is a role for Government to ensure regulations are fit for purpose. Mining and minerals are important contributors to the economy and employment."

The Hawke's Bay Regional Council said it had not received any resource consent applications from oil companies looking at exploration work.

The council also expected a report looking at the potential economic benefits of establishing an onshore oil and gas industry on the East Coast to be completed before Christmas.

Meanwhile, Canadian oil and gas exploration giant Apache said it would not use fracking if the Gisborne District Council granted it consent to explore at Punawai inland from Te Karaka.

Alex Ferguson, the company's senior adviser, said Apache had modified everything and adopted a measured exploratory approach.

Apache planned to drill to explore for oil - without using hydraulic fracturing - and then seal the site before making any further decisions, he said.

If oil was discovered and it was not feasible to access it without fracking, Apache would probably sit down and think about the situation for a few months, Mr Ferguson said.

- Additional reporting Gisborne Herald.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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