Anti-fracking group protest

SIGN OF DISCONTENT: Hawke's Bay farmer Greg Hart, who organised the protest, with  his sons Bill, 6, and George, 8.
SIGN OF DISCONTENT: Hawke's Bay farmer Greg Hart, who organised the protest, with his sons Bill, 6, and George, 8.

More than 300 protesters marched through Napier yesterday to face off with representatives of oil companies intent on drilling the East Coast.

The group carried placards and yelled: "No way – don't frack the bay." They then assembled outside the Hawke's Bay Regional Council building, leaning their signs against a wall and forming the largest public group seen at one of the council's meetings.

They spent more than an hour listening to Apache regulatory affairs adviser Alex Ferguson explain to councillors why his company wanted to drill, the likelihood of commercial extraction and the benefits an oil find may bring.

The presentation is unlikely to have changed the minds of those opposed not only to the practice of "fracking", but also fossil fuel extraction in general.

It was a remarkably civil encounter, spoiled only by a woman who, at the end of the presentation, yelled at Mr Ferguson that he and his company were not wanted and should go home.

There was some discontent that the group was not allowed to ask questions and council chairman Fenton Wilson urged Mr Ferguson to hold a public meeting at some stage to field queries.

Apache intends to explore three areas with partner TAG Oil, which also had a representative at the meeting.

Mr Ferguson said the project was "high risk from a financial perspective" and it was "still patchy" as to whether the amount of oil made it viable to drill.

Applications for resource consent to drill exploration wells would probably be lodged in the next two months. Phase one of the operation would run until the end of this year when the company would decide whether to enter phase two. This would involve a horizontal well that would "mimic what was seen in the production environment".

Mr Ferguson estimated a "one in five chance that there is a resource that will see us into phase two". If oil was found there was a "50-50" likelihood that fracking would be required, he said.

March organiser Greg Hart said the pursuit of fossil fuels was "completely contrary to what science is telling us". "The focus of these companies is oil. We know where burning fossil fuel is leading and I just struggle to believe that people still want to go that way."

The size of the crowd, mustered in just three days, showed how strongly people felt about the issue, he said.

Council staff said a resource consent application could not assess the adverse effects of carbon emissions. Permits to explore or extract oil commercially were granted by central government.

As debate over hydraulic fracturing heats up, Christchurch City Council has called on the Government for a moratorium in Canterbury.

Mayor Bob Parker has written to Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley requesting the moratorium after widespread community concerns.

Several companies have applied for gas extraction permits in the region and Mr Parker asked for a moratorium until an independent inquiry into the practice of fracking could be carried out.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial mining practice in which gas and oil are obtained by drilling into open rock deep in the Earth then forcing in large amounts of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure.

It can cause groundwater contamination and is banned in some countries.