Green MP Gareth Hughes has received much criticism for his energetic opposition to fracking, this industry has been the saviour of the US in terms of energy independence and is a rapidly growing industry around the world and in New Zealand. After passing the peak of easily available oil, the industry has had to look at more environmentally challenging sources to meet demand. Drilling in deeper seas has resulted in some catastrophic accidents in terms of environmental damage and lives lost and less productive and environmentally invasive sources have been exploited (like the Canadian tar sands).
The discovery that previously uneconomic deposits of oil and gas could be accessed by hydraulically cracking rock and connecting smaller pockets of fossil fuel was a revelation. This was achieved by drilling down into oil rich rock and forcing a mixture of water and chemicals into it so that it causes widespread cracking and allowing the oil or gas to flow.
While fracking is very productive there have been some concerning environmental consequences when the chemicals used to support the fracking infiltrated the aquifers and contaminated ground water. The cracking and gas release is not a precision process and leakage into the surrounding environment has also been a constant problem. Although there has been fracking in New Zealand for over twenty years it is has been on a relatively small scale and it has been a largely self regulated industry.
Given the concerns overseas and some worrying reports locally, the Green Party has demanded a moratorium on fracking and managed to get the Parliamentary Commissioner of the Environment to investigate the environmental consequences. This report has just been released and although the commissioner decided that a moratorium was unnecessary she did flag some real concerns:
“However I have significant concerns about how fragmented and complicated the regulatory environment for fracking is and about how these rules are being applied.
“If fracking is not done well it can have significant environmental impacts including polluting water and triggering earthquakes.
“I am also concerned that regulation may be too light-handed, particularly if fracking opens the door to a large-scale and widespread oil and gas boom with a lot of different companies involved.
“These concerns form the basis of the next stage of my investigation into fracking which I hope to conclude before the middle of next year.”
Interviews with a local authority representative revealed a lack of capacity to regulate and monitor new fracking wells and the scientific community has also voiced concern. While the Green Party largely support the work of Dr Wright regarding the environmental impact of fracking there is still reasonable concern that there could be serious consequences while the regulatory capacity is lacking. We believe a moratorium is still appropriate until the industry can be properly controlled and monitored and Dr Wright's investigations are fully completed. It would also be hugely useful if cleaner sources of energy received greater support and research.