Editorial: Fracking study no bad thing

By Antony Phillips

To say fracking is an emotive issue would almost be an understatement.

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.

Many people, some informed, many less so, have an inherent distrust of the process as described.

Who could blame them. New Zealand is a small country with a lot invested in its reputation - deserved or not - as a clean, green nation and producer of safe food.

How does the high pressure injection of a cocktail of chemicals and fluid into our underlying rock square with that reputation?

Not very well on the face of it, although the oil exploration and extraction companies tell us we have little to fear.

Unfortunately, experiences such as the wreck of the Rena and subsequent oil spill, have shown that our environment can be spoiled in unexpectedly sudden ways.

We are right, therefore, to be cautious when it comes to plans by Apache Corporation and TAG Oil to gain consents to use fracking for oil exploration in Hawke's Bay.

The government believes it has adequate regulations to manage the effects of fracking but the Hawke's Bay Regional Council, the body which is on the hook for issuing consents to Apache-TAG, is nervous.

Councillors have voted unanimously to ask the Parliamentary Commission for the Environment to undertake a study into fracking and whether or not it poses a risk to our environment.

Not surprisingly, the Green Party supports the councillors' stance, with MP Gareth Hughes pointing out that the regional council could hardly be described as a bunch of clamouring environmental activists. "We really welcome the decision by the council," he said. "I think this shows that it is not an extreme or fringe issue. The thing is, we still don't have much information."

In tabling the motion, regional councillor Liz Remmerswaal outlined environmental problems linked to fracking overseas, including groundwater contamination, and said the consent process was putting an unfair amount of responsibility on local government.

It is hard to disagree with the councillors' calls for an inquiry. If there are commercial quantities of oil in Hawke's Bay, they have been lying underground for millions of years. A bit more time while we err on the side of caution will not hurt anyone.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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