The Government is likely to come under intense scrutiny
regarding recommendations by the Parliamentary Commissioner for
the Environment, addressing the contentious fracking issues.
Commissioner Dr Jan Wright's second report emphasises the
most recent regulatory changes by the Government, including
the recently updated Petroleum Exploration and Extraction
Regulations and operation of the new High Hazards Unit, do
not go far enough.
Environment Minister Amy Adams and Energy and Resources
Minister Simon Bridges said the report was a ''useful
contribution'' to discussion on how best to manage the
environmental effects of onshore petroleum development,
''We do need to consider how the industry may develop in the
future. Ministers will analyse and consider the
commissioner's recommendations,'' they said in a joint
Dr Wright, in calling for a ''national policy statement'',
with emphasis on fracking, or ''unconventional'' drilling
methods, said using the experience from Taranaki operations
elsewhere was not adequate.
''It makes no sense for various councils to all be
reinventing the wheel,'' she said in the report's overview.
''A major theme in this report is the unjustified variation
in council plans and consent conditions,'' Dr Wright said.
''The Minister for the Environment [Ms Adams] has proposed a
national planning template with standardised layout and
terminology - this will help, but more is needed,'' Dr Wright
Ms Adams and Mr Bridges said that in March this year, the
Government had released guidelines to clarify regulatory
roles and help councils manage the effects of onshore
petroleum development, including hydraulic fracturing.
That 180-page document includes a section on whether fracking
should be publicly notified under ''special circumstances'',
the most important clause allowing the public to have their
It suggests ''special circumstances must be more than: where
a council has had an indication that people want to make
submissions; the fact that a large development is proposed;
the fact that some persons have concerns about a proposal''.
Even if a regional council found ''special circumstances'',
it retained the discretion on whether to publicly notify the
Dr Wright said: ''In Taranaki, remarkably, a resource consent
is not needed to drill for oil and gas. Outside Taranaki,
drilling an oil and gas well generally does require a consent
from the regional council, but the council does not have the
option to say no,'' she said.
Because councils judged the effects of single wells to be
''minor'', resource consent applications were not being
publicly notified, she said.
''Understandably, some perceive this as `regulatory capture',
that is, seeing councils as acting in the benefit of the [oil
and gas] industry, rather than in the public interest,'' Dr
Ms Adams said the guidelines to clarify regulatory roles and
help councils provided support to ensure that hydraulic
fracturing was managed in a sound and responsible way. The
environmental risks could be effectively managed if best
practice was followed, she said.
''These guidelines provide clear direction so that hydraulic
fracturing is carried out in a robust, controlled and
well-regulated manner,'' Ms Adams said.
Dr Wright said the ''few highly trained inspectors'' of the
High Hazards Unit would enforce drill site controls, but this
would be ''far more sensibly done by regional council