Members of the Greens/European Free Alliance Group and the
European United Left Group of the European Parliament
demonstrate against fracking in front of the European
Parliament in Strasbourg. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
Fracking should not be banned in New Zealand but
oversight and regulation of the industry must be improved as
the practice increases, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the
Environment has found.
An interim report by commissioner Jan Wright concluded the
controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, known as
"fracking", could be done safely in New Zealand if
But the energy industry had not yet gained the trust of the
public by showing it had used world's best practice, and the
regulation which governed it could be too light-handed.
"During the course of this investigation I have come to a
similar conclusion to the [British] Royal Society which is
that fracking is safe if it is properly regulated and
managed," Dr Wright said.
"However I have significant concerns about how fragmented and
complicated the regulatory environment for fracking is and
about how these rules are being applied."
Dr Wright would not bow to Green Party calls for a moratorium
on fracking, but said she would not hesitate to impose a ban
if the second half of her investigation revealed that process
was too dangerous.
"Recommending a moratorium is a big thing to do and I
wouldn't do it lightly. It's a business employing lots of
people with livelihoods at stake here.
"But I am the environmental commissioner so the environment
must be of primary concern. I've not seen anything yet that
it is of high and urgent concern but that is not to say that
everything has been done perfectly so far."
Fracking helps release natural gas and oil deposits that
would otherwise be uneconomical or impossible to recover by
pumping large volumes of mainly water and sand at high
pressure through a wellbore into deeply buried gas-bearing
The investigation found some instances of minor environmental
damage as a result of fracking, but nothing of major concern.
The report said that if best practice was not followed,
fracking could trigger earthquakes or pollute aquifers.
Dr Wright said small quakes had been caused by fracking in
the United States, but these were highly infrequent and small
- around 2 or 3 on the Richter scale, with one magnitude 5
quake observed in Colorado.
However, New Zealand was a seismically active part of the
world and companies were discouraged from drilling wells near
Energy companies have proposed oil and gas exploration on the
North Island's East Coast, where seismic activity was high.
A GNS Science report commissioned by the Taranaki Regional
Council found that fracking activity in the region did not
contribute to any of 3000 monitored earthquakes.
Dr Wright said the greater concern was chemicals used in the
fracking process leaking into groundwater.
New Zealand has been taking place in New Zealand for 23
years, but was expected to dramatically increase as part of
Government plans to massively expand oil and gas exploration.
Dr Wright said the safe track record in Taranaki so far was
not an indication that fracking could be expanded without
reviewing regulations and oversight.
The second half of her investigation would focus on what
regulation could be introduced to encourage best practice was
used by industry.
The report said it was difficult to make conclusions about
fracking's contribution to climate change. Dr Wright said
that although natural gas was less harmful than coal mining
in terms of carbon output, it still had a worse impact on
climate change than renewable energy.
FRACKING: INTERIM FINDINGS
Government oversight and regulation
- oversight is complex and fragmented
- regulation may be too light-handed
- a "social licence" to operate is yet to be earned
Management of environmental risks
- well sites must be chosen carefully, away from earthquake
- wells must be designed and constructed to prevent leaks
- spills and leaks must be prevented on the surface
- waste must be stored and disposed of with care
- Isaac Davison of the New Zealand Herald