An environmental group says food production in eastern Taranaki could be harmed if Solid Energy goes ahead with coal seam gas extraction in the area.

The state-owned enterprise said on Wednesday it had potentially massive gas reserves in coal seams there and would start assessment of its commercial viability.

While any coal seam gas production is years away it is possible the controversial fracking technique will be used. Fracking is used where the gas flow is weak and involves pumping large volumes of a fluid with some chemicals at high pressure down the well causing the coal seam to fracture.

Solid Energy says it has used fracking safely at a trial plant near Huntly.


The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is investigating fracking but the Government has rejected calls for a moratorium until findings have been released.

Climate Justice Taranaki spokeswoman Teresa Goodin said there was a risk the area could be turned into an "industrial wasteland".

Concern was growing across the Tasman where water levels have dropped significantly in some areas, putting farming operations at risk, she said.

Large areas were condemned for the storage of highly saline, toxic waste fluids as a result of this industry.

"I think it's time for farmers and landowners in the backblocks of Eastern Taranaki to look into this issue, because you don't have to dig too far to find how CSG has affected the farmers and the environment in Aussie," Goodin said.

"We will keep on organising resistance against oil, gas, coal and especially fracking in our communities."

Solid Energy's general manager of gas developments, Steven Pearce, said he would expect opposition to fracking. "I don't think there's a good enough debate going on around this in New Zealand. We've been quite open that [we] used hydraulic fracturing in Waikato."

The pilot operation near Huntly had used "environmentally friendly" chemicals and nearby aquifers had been extensively monitored. He was confident they had not been harmed.

Pearce said fracking was expensive, especially when used in multi-well operations above coal seams. "It's one of the techniques to enhance the permeability."

Solid Energy is applying to have its permit extended by five years to allow further appraisal.