DCC backs fracking moratorium

Dave Cull.
Dave Cull.
The Dunedin City Council fractured into two camps before narrowly deciding to join calls for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", yesterday.

Councillors at yesterday's planning and environment committee meeting voted 7-6 to support calls for a moratorium on the controversial oil and gas extraction process.

A moratorium would result in a freeze on new fracking in New Zealand until the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, completed an investigation into the practice later this year.

The decision by councillors meant Dunedin would add its voice to calls from the Christchurch City Council and four regional and district councils covering Hawkes Bay, Waimakariri, Kaikoura and Selwyn.

A report by council sustainability adviser Maria Ioannou to yesterday's meeting said fracking was used in some parts of New Zealand, including Taranaki and Waikato, but not in Otago.

The practice involves drilling deep wells and injecting high-pressure quantities of water, fine sediment - usually sand - and chemicals into rock, causing them to crack open and release hydrocarbons stored within.

Use of the practice in the United States had soared since 2005, and spread to other countries including New Zealand, but had since been banned in countries including France, Bulgaria and South Africa, the report said.

Environmentalists worried about the potential for toxic fluids, or the hydrocarbons, to escape and contaminate underground water aquifers.

Speaking yesterday, Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said he supported calls for a moratorium, given the geological volatility of the country.

Shell representatives, on a recent trip to Dunedin, had acknowledged the potential to use fracking effectively in some parts of the world, but also the risks associated with the practice in other areas.

"I think a precautionary approach is the only sensible one," he said.

Cr Jinty MacTavish said residents in Taranaki, where the technique was already used, were among those expressing "fairly significant concerns", and Dunedin would be right to join calls for a moratorium.

The call would mean more than just supporting a short-term moratorium, she believed.

"It's an indication to the Government that this is something that we as a community have some concerns about and would like them to take seriously.

"We value our water resources very highly here."

Cr Richard Thomson said there were sufficient concerns about fracking to justify the council taking a "precautionary approach", despite some "extreme" claims on both sides of the argument.

His views also won support from deputy mayor Chris Staynes and Cr Teresa Stevenson, while Cr Kate Wilson said the effort invested in extracting dwindling fossil fuels should instead be used to develop renewable energy sources.

Other councillors were not convinced, with Cr John Bezett arguing a moratorium would not happen anyway, while Cr Lee Vandervis worried a moratorium would "kill stone dead" the use of fracking in areas in which it had been successful for years.


Nuclear fusion

Having been to the recent Batman movie I am very concerned about the possibility that a nuclear fusion device, whilst providing a lot of clean energy and greatly benefitting the local econonmy, may be converted by terrorists into a dangerous weapon.

The council must act immediately to put in place a moratorium on all fusion devices to prevent this from occurring.

DCC's role

Whether or not the DCC should formally express views like this support for the fracking moratorium is not all that clear-cut.
Our democratic system is both representative and participatory at both central and local government levels. Participation includes consultation but clearly it is impossible to consult on everything. You probably wouldn't get consensus that often anyway.
Representation means voters indicate their confidence in the person they vote for to represent their interests- and when it comes to local government, that means looking out for local interests with the advantage of local knowledge.
If councils don't do this, then they become no more than administrators of government policy, especially considering that new legislation appears to be removing councils' 'powers of general competence' and their right to address the 'four wellbeings' of social, economic, environmental and cultural benefit to the local inhabitants.
(Note that no DCC policy on fracking was expressed - merely support for the moratorium. If the Commissioner for the Environment decides fracking is safe, I expect DCC support on the grounds of local economic benefit.)




What's more important, water or oil?

Heartily agree

I heartily endorse PeteGeorge's comments. 

No regrets

Thank you DCC for taking leadership on this issue. It is simply a "no regrets" policy - no fracking until it has been proven safe.

Public lobbying

For those keeping score at home:

- public lobbying of Government by CEO of City Forests = not OK

- public lobbying of Government by DCC = OK 

DCC decision on fracking moratorium

Clean  safe natural water supply is far more important than gas and oil. Good decision from DCC.


None of the council's fracking business

I think this is disgraceful from the council.

My complaint has nothing directly  to do with fracking,  that is properly under investigation by the Commision of the Environment.

But I have major concerns over why the Dunedin City Council is involving itself in national politics.

DCC has no expertise in drilling or fracking, and it has no direct interest in it. Dave Cull said in April: "It is Regional Councils that issue Resource Consents for activities that might include fracking."

A DCC website search has no hits on fracking - because it has nothing to do with them. Yet the council uses city resources and council time to make symbolic votes and statements at the instigation of a very small pressure group.

There has been no public consulation that I'm aware of. The council should act for and speak for the people of Dunedin, and should not be used for personal political purposes.

This is a blatant abuse of local government and democracy.

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