Fracking moratorium causes cracks council, MP relationship

By Chris Morris of the Otago Daily Times

Michael Woodhouse. Photo / Supplied
Michael Woodhouse. Photo / Supplied

Calls for a moratorium on fracking by the Dunedin City Council have opened up a fissure between Mayor Dave Cull and National's Dunedin-based list MP, Michael Woodhouse.

The council on Tuesday became the fifth local authority in New Zealand to call for a moratorium on the controversial oil and gas extraction process, pending results of a nation-wide investigation due by November.

The decision prompted Mr Woodhouse to yesterday question in Parliament whether the council was now "equivocal" in its support for possible oil and gas exploration off the city's coast.

The list of businesses that had moved head offices away from Dunedin showed why the city's civic leaders should back oil and gas exploration, as long as the risks could be managed, he believed.

"I can't stand by and look the people of Dunedin in the eye and say it's sad what happened to Hillside ... and then turn around to say we are equivocal about oil and gas exploration," he said.

Instead, he threw his support behind oil and gas exploration, saying it would be "great" for the city, and called on others to do the same, "in particular, the Dunedin City Council".

Mr Cull said when contacted he was at a loss to understand Mr Woodhouse's comments, "unless he was at a different meeting".

"I don't know how he could infer any attitude at all about oil and gas on the part of council from that meeting."

The decision to join calls for a moratorium was passed 7-6 by councillors at Tuesday's planning and environment committee meeting, but applied only to new fracking and had not been acted upon by the Government.

Mr Cull said the call for a moratorium "made no judgement" about the safety of fracking, or the merits of offshore oil and gas exploration.

Instead, it urged only a precautionary approach until results of the official investigation, being carried out by Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright, were known.

"That's the point. We don't know," Mr Cull said.

"All the proposed moratorium is about is how gas is extracted, and making sure that it's done safely."

The council had no policy on oil and gas extraction, as any offshore extraction would be outside the council's jurisdiction, Mr Cull said.

However, the council was aware there could be an opportunity for a support and logistical services base should offshore drilling proceed, and was "watching this space", Mr Cull said.

"At the same time, council would be expected to express the community's concern that all possible safety and mitigation ... measures were put in place if drilling were to occur off our coast, because of the risks of spills or blowouts."

Mr Woodhouse told the House he was "concerned" by the council's call, coming before the completion of the official investigation and without fracking occurring in Otago.

He also questioned why the council did not first consult the community, but Mr Cull said the moratorium call came after members of the public lobbied for action at a recent public forum.

"We were reacting to community concern."

- Otago Daily Times

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