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'No red flag' on fracking, says watchdog

Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright has all but ruled out a moratorium on fracking.

In releasing her interim report on fracking today, Dr Wright outlined four “golden rules” for fracking and indicated cautious approval for the practice.

“Also known as hydraulic fracturing, the process uses water sand and chemicals to extract otherwise difficult to dislodge gas and oil from shale rock and sandstone.

It is a focus of much protest and emotive claim and counterclaim and Dr Wright, in her briefing before her report was tabled in Parliament this afternoon, made it clear the evidence does not back up some of the more emotive claims.

There is no evidence fracking is an earthquake risk, her report says, although it also advises it would be prudent not to use the practice on or near active faultlines until more is known.

“I have not yet seen anything that is a big red flag, but I don’t know yet how thorough the monitoring is that has been done,” she told a media briefing.

“The risks are low if everything is done with best practice.”

Specific rules

The next report will focus far more explicitly on what specific rules will be required to ensure best practice from firms using fracking.

So far in New Zealand firms trialing the practice include Todd Energy, Solid Energy and L&M Energy.

The report stresses four areas of regulation: as noted above, the first is to keep away from active faults.

“The second thing is ‘well integrity’ – casing the well thoroughly, getting the cement right and strongly bonding the well to surrounding rock, making sure it is able to withstand ground movements, which as you know we have a lot of in New Zealand.”

The third aspect is limiting any spills and leaks on the surface – “easy to do in theory but there is always human error”.

The fourth is disposal of waste from the fracking process.

These four will be the main thrust of the final report next year.

Much of the publicity around fracking has been over-emotive, she says, and adds that her own previous comments have been misinterpreted by opponents of the practice.

Qualified endorsement

Her comments earlier this year on a qualified endorsement from the Royal Society on fracking should not be seen as an endorsement and neither is today’s report.

“I did not give the big tick to fracking then and that is certainly not what I am doing here today.”

But her interim conclusion is that fracking “can be managed provided best practice is actually being implemented and enforced through regulation”.

A moratorium – as opponents in the Green Party and in the environmental movement have called for – is not needed, she says.

“Calling for a moratorium is a very big step. I find it a little hard to see the need to undertake a moratorium on the industry at this point – to be fair you would have to look at conventional [mineral extraction] as well.”

More by Rob Hosking

Comments and questions

Praise the lord!

Sorry, but injecting chemicals into the earth that could ruin drinking water seems pretty crazy in this land of milk and honey.

Most of the places they inject these chemicals are more (naturally) toxic than the injection fluid itself. It's really not a big deal, and well worth it from an economic perspective.

The chemicals are injected well below any level where they will come back up. That is the beauty of injecting them into the source rock - as the gas then flows up and gets trapped into the reserve to be pumped out. The trap is natural and stops fracking water from getting into the water table.

A small victory for science and rationalism against the superstitious, "great-leap backwards" cultists.

Yes, it's great that the science is being hailed. Presumably, then, you also hail the overwhelming scientific evidence that has demonstrated that climate change is man-made. Or did you only cherry pick the 'science' that you support?

Don't those stupid greenies realise that fracking has lowered carbon emissions and put coal mines out of business in the US because it has delivered such cheap gas.
US has no carbon tax but has lower emissions.
Australia and NZ have carbon tax and ETS but little or no fracking and emissions rise.
Those greenies are really dumb.
Fracking has also done so much to lower energy prices in the US.
Not only does that mean jobs have been created for the workers in the gas sector, but it means manufacturing jobs can return to the US for cheaper power. Lower energy prices also mean people have more money to spend as energy is no longer unaffordable.
Man, are those greenies dumb. They should get fracked!

You need to see what fracking has done in America before you blithely go along with it. It poisons underground water that makes animals and people on farms sick, the waste it produces poisons the soil so that nothing can grow, etc. etc. It is not all about lower energy prices and creating jobs - there is definitely a down side to it.

Seen all this damage, have you? Or are you one of those who have heard from someone who knows someone who has seen it, or seen a photo of something somewhere that somebody said was caused by fracking?

Absolute rubbish!!!
The depths at which fracking takes place are well below any vegetation root area and water tables/subterrainen aquifiers.

It has been proved in courtroom after courtroom that anti-fracking activists have been guilty of fraud or misrepresentation.

“The state investigated and its scientists found nothing wrong. So the 11 families insisted EPA scientists investigate. They did — and much to the dismay of the environmental movement found the water was not contaminated.”

Great news. Get on with it!

Common sense at last!
Well done.

NB: Frack baby frack.

Once more those fecking greenies are shown to be scaremongering!

This is real biased reporting. Read the PCE report yourself and you will find plenty of serious environmental and regulatory concerns.

Here are the three key findings re government oversight and regulation:
1. Oversight is complex and fragmented.
2. Regulation may be too light-handed.
3. A 'social licence' to operate is yet to be earned.

And the commissioner goes on to say "I cannot be confident that operational best practices are actually being implemented and enforced in this country."

Despite all these, she said a moratorium is not justified. This we cannot comprehend. What happened to the precautionary principle that we rely on for protecting the environment and people? Without am immediate moratorium, we can expect to see companies and councils ticking off consent applications for fracking as fast as they can, before her next report and any proposed regulatory changes yet to come.

It will be a nightmare for landowners living next to fracked wells and farmers and tourism operators dependent on a real clean, green environment.

Like many New Zealanders, I have awaited this report so I can get some non-emotional independent insight into fracking.

I accept her cautious approval. But I also note with concern her proviso that "best practice is actually being implemented and enforced through regulation”.

How many of those enthusiatic supporters of fracking above accept the need for regulation and oversight - or do they really just want to undertake fracking unfeterred by constraints on their returns that require them to be responsible?

#9 Anonymous
What utter balderdash - the so-called precautionary principle is a nonsense as there are environmental costs associated with it also.
This is a bit like the man walking ahead of the early motor cars with a red flag!

Are you saying, Graeme, that we should push ahead in the name of economic development without any consideration for the environment?

I am no greenie but imo fracking is not welcome in the Hawke's Bay where the entire economy relies on the integrity of the aquifer.

Those that say go ahead with no fore thought are simply idiots.

The report does not say there is no evidence fracking is an earthquake risk and states that earthquakes can be trigggered on active faults and gives three documented cases internationally. It states that there is no evidence of earthquakes being triggered in Taranaki but that the likelihood in more active fault areas of NZ is unknown.


1- "There is no evidence fracking is an earthquake risk," her report says, "although it also advises it would be prudent not to use the practice on or near active faultlines until more is known."

Just like GM then: do anything you want until one can prove it is harmful. It took 50 years for tobacco to be "proved" harmful, against intense lobbying, providing private companies with immense profits while burdening the society with huge costs. Since when was the precautionary principle replaced by the "wait and see while our friends pocket the money" one?

2- “The risks are low if everything is done with best practice.”

Ha ha! Nothing to worry about then. Best practice is what NZ does best. Not.

3- "There is no evidence fracking is an earthquake risk," her report says.

Only if you are blind and deaf. From the British Geological Survey Institute: "the earthquakes near Blackpool in April and May 2011 were induced by hydraulic fracture treatments."
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Not saying it shouldn't be done, but the way this is handled, I expect the worst. Denying risks is not the way to mitigate them, and removes any confidence I may have had in those behind the push for fracking.

Hasn't fracking been carried out in Taranaki for the last 20 years. They still grow plenty of grass for there cows.

And also in the geothermal fields

If the car were to be invented today, the Greens would ban it immediately. If a plane with an engine was invented, that would be deemed too risky, and would not be allowed to operate. If X-rays were invented today, the Greens would be opposed to that, and no nuclear systems would be allowed for cancer treatment either. So why are we giving the Greens so much space?

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