Inquiry clears fracking

ROB MAETZIG AND HELEN HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 20/07/2012

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A landmark British investigation into fracking has concluded that the controversial practice is safe with little risk to health and the environment.

The review, by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, says fracking can be managed effectively in Britain - as long as operational best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation.

The review's contents and recommendations have been compared against New Zealand's fracking practices.

The review was tabled at the Taranaki Regional Council policy and planning committee meeting yesterday.

Director of environment quality Gary Bedford said fracking - a method of mineral extraction in which water and chemicals are injected into the earth, fracturing the rock and releasing natural gas - had been used for 60 years.

But in the past 12 months the practice has become a prime target for environmental groups and New Zealand's parliamentary commissioner for the environment is also investigating it.

Mr Bedford said extracting shale gas, as as is done in Britain, is different from the fracking that occurs in Taranaki. Shale gas is shallower and takes a lot more effort to fracture, therefore, if shale gas is safe, "people can be certain the fracturing that occurs here is doubly safe".

"We find we check off against the list of recommendations. We are up there delivering best practice."

TRC had been asked by the Royal Society of New Zealand for its views on how relevant and applicable the British report's recommendations were to New Zealand.

The report's key findings included:

■ The risk of fractures contaminating aquifers is very low, provided the fracking is at depths of many hundreds of metres or even kilometres. And even if the fractures do reach aquifers, the necessary pressure conditions for contaminants to flow are very unlikely.

■ More likely causes of potential contamination include faulty wells. This means that ensuring well integrity must remain the highest priority.

■ Robust monitoring is vital. It should be carried out before, during and after gas operations to detect methane and other contaminants in groundwater and potential leaks of methane and other gases.

■ Environmental risk assessments should be mandatory.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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