ORC fracking policy to depend on each case

No applications to undertake hydraulic fracking have been received by the Otago Regional Council, but its policy on whether an application is public or non-notified will be done case by case.

While fracking has been done more than 40 times in New Zealand in past decades, with little evidence of harm to the environment, the next company requiring resource consent applications to frack may come under intense environmental and public scrutiny.

While local councils around the country have been under pressure from ratepayers and environmentalists to make a public stand on fracking policies, it is regional and some district councils which will consider and issue consents for the procedure.

The Otago Regional Council (ORC) undertook hydrofracking in the Ida Valley last year, but its search to try to produce better yields from a groundwater bore relied simply on high pressure water to fracture the rock and did not include the contentious use of toxic proppants.

Proppant chemicals can make up 3%-5% of an injected mixture of sand and chemicals used to fill gaps in the fractured rock to allow gas or oil to flow freely, but some chemicals can be highly toxic.

Otago Regional Council director resource management Selva Selvarajah said the ORC had not received any consent applications for fracking activities around Otago.

''If we do receive any applications in future, we will deal with any such applications cautiously,'' Dr Selvarajah said.

Fracking is used to boost production, not as an exploration tool, in the search for oil and gas. Around Otago and Southland companies have found deposits of methane gas and shale oil of uncertain commercial viability, which could produce higher yields with fracking. Dr Selvarajah said while there were no specific policies or rules provided for fracking activities in the ORC's regional plans, he was confident the provisions to protect ground water quality in the ORC's water plan ''can be applied under the circumstances''.

He expected any fracking applications would be ''technically complex'', but the ORC could use in-house hydrogeologists or any other suitably qualified and experienced external experts to assess such applications.

''Notification or non-notification processes will be determined on a case-by-case basis,'' Dr Selvarajah said.

He said if adverse effects on the environment were considered to be ''less than minor'' the applications would be processed as non-notified, but if effects were considered more than minor, they would be publicly notified.

Environmentalists have kept West Coast coking coal developer Bathurst Resources wrapped up in High Court, Court of Appeal and Environment Court procedures, delaying mine development, for almost a year.

- simon.hartley@odt.co.nz

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