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No ‘thumbs up’ to fracking from Parliamentary Commissioner

No ‘thumbs up’ to fracking from Parliamentary Commissioner

Mon, Nov 26 2012

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, today released an interim report on her inquiry into the appropriateness of fracking in New Zealand.

In short, no ‘thumbs up’ … rather official skepticism, and clear identification of critical issues that require deeper investigation before the practice is further rolled out. Here is the full report.

And here’s a cogent and measured response from Don’t Frack The Bay spokesperson, Pauline Elliott:

“Lobby group Don’t Frack the Bay welcomes the interim report on fracking issued today by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Environment, Dr Jan Wright.

Spokesperson, Pauline Elliott, says Dr Wright’s findings echo many of the concerns raised by this group more than 18 months ago. “Given the seriousness of issues raised in her report, it is surprising that a call for a moratorium has not been made, at least until the significant regulatory concerns can be addressed”.

The interim report highlights the lack of any oversight by central government; the lack of a sound, cohesive regulatory framework; the “labyrinthine” roles of central and local government agencies, and their fragmented approach; and the ‘light handed’ approach to a high risk industry. These issues will be the subject of further investigation and recommendations.

Dr Wright states she “cannot be confident that operational best practices are actually being implemented and enforced through regulation”. While acknowledging the current government is hoping for an economic future built on oil and gas, she questions “whether the same effort is being put into preparing for the impacts it may have”.

“The social, cultural and health effects must also be fully considered before fracking is more widely used” says Ms Elliott. “These are impacts that have not yet been considered, and were not the focus of this report.”

Dr Wright has identified “choosing where to drill” as a key element in protecting the environment.

Stating that almost all fracking to date has been in Taranaki, she cautions that generalising from the Taranaki experience is of little or limited value. The report emphasises that the geology and hydrogeology of the East Coast is vastly different to that of Taranaki.

“Don’t Frack the Bay has long voiced concern that the complex, intricate geology of Hawke’s Bay is a major concern. The region is not suited to hydraulic fracturing” says Ms Elliott. “In addition, unlike Taranaki, this region suffers periods of drought. There is a crucial question as to where the significant volumes of water required for fracking will come from. There can be no comparison with Taranaki as a model for development” says Ms Elliott.

Ms Elliott says the Commissioner is to be commended on exploring the multiplicity of issues that have been the subject of such wide debate. “It is, however, disappointing to see so many significant questions raised with no call for a pause in proceedings, at least until the major concerns around regulation, monitoring, and enforcement, have been addressed”, she says.

Dr Wright’s call for the industry and government to ‘earn a social licence’ through greater transparency and public engagement is commendable. “What is needed,” Dr Wright stresses, “is trust that government oversight is occurring, and that regulation is enforced, and seen to be so.”

“We are experts at shutting the gate after the horse has bolted”, says Ms Elliott. “Given Pike River; leaky homes; failed finance markets; and escalating workplace injuries and fatalities, there is little public confidence that government or its agencies can provide the level of monitoring and enforcement required to protect against failures in the gas and oil mining industry.”

I think Pauline has nailed it.

Adds Regional Councillor Liz Remmerswaal:

“Dr Wright says government regulations are not up to standard, and that comparing Hawke’s Bay to Taranaki are inappropriate. I hope this report and the one that follows means that council will wake up to stop a blind rush to making us a ‘Texas of the South’.” Councillor Remmerswaal says there is more at stake than just the possible money and jobs dreamed about in the upcoming government/council economic report, due in December on the oil industry in Hawke’s Bay. “What is the hurry to rush this process which may have such dubious results? The oil isn’t going anywhere, is it?”

More to come.

Tom Belford

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