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Environment report not likely to seek fracking ban

NEIL REID
Last updated 05:00 25/11/2012

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New Zealand's environmental watchdog is unlikely to call for a ban on fracking upon the release of her initial inquiry into the controversial oil and gas industry technique.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright will on Tuesday release her report on fracking, which involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into rock masses, from as little as several hundred metres underground, to help release oil and gas.

The report follows an eight-month investigation instigated after it was revealed fracking was being undertaken without consent, and some operations had polluted the air, groundwater and soil.

As Wright prepares to table her report in Parliament, the Star-Times has learnt that any suggestions to either ban fracking or allow it to be continued but with stricter guidelines and consent processes, would instead be included in a second, yet-to-be completed report.

Wright's investigation comes at a time when a growing number of overseas countries are banning fracking due to environmental disasters and reported links to an increase in seismic activity.

Fracking has been carried out in New Zealand for more than 20 years, with numerous operations by energy companies without specific consent from local councils.

Green Party energy spokesman Gareth Hughes said if Wright did not make a binding stand on fracking in her report, he would call on the Government to order a moratorium on fracking until the procedure was proven safe.

"Until it can be proven we have got a robust regulatory regime to protect our environment, we shouldn't be undertaking this massive expansion which is currently planned," Hughes said.

Hughes has provided the Star-Times with a dossier of alleged fracking incidents in New Zealand, including a lack of consent, dumping of fluids in public waterways, groundwater and soil contamination, air pollution and a failure by officials to scrutinise chemicals being used.

Earlier this month, Todd Energy released the 178-page submission it had provided Wright's investigation.

In it, the energy company - which has a history of fracking in Taranaki - said New Zealand's multibillion-dollar energy industry would be uneconomic if fracking was outlawed.

Todd Energy chief executive Paul Moore argued the practice could be done safely.

"We need to do it - but we also need to assure the public that we're doing it well," he said.

"We believe the way to do this is to be totally transparent. All we want to do is honestly say to everyone that we are wanting to do the right thing, that we are fully committed to New Zealand and our environment."

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