Fracking avoids red light but care urged

A highly-anticipated report into fracking has highlighted a need for caution, but has stopped short of calling for a moratorium despite calls for a nationwide ban on the controversial practice.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) Dr Jan Wright said in a report released on Tuesday she did not believe calls for a moratorium were justified. However, she did not have full confidence in the way the industry was regulated at present.

Fracking - short for hydraulic fracturing - involves injecting fluid containing sand and chemicals at high pressure to fracture rock, in order to extract previously inaccessible oil and gas.

It has been linked to earthquakes in Britain and has received global attention since the 2010 documentary Gasland was screened around the world.

Although fracking is not new to New Zealand - the practice dates back more than 20 years in Taranaki - communities around New Zealand woke up to the issue just recently, with Christchurch City Council declaring the area a frack-free zone in April this year.

Kaikoura followed suit the same month, with a majority of councillors voting in favour of the mostly-symbolic gesture. However mayor Winston Gray at the time said he would have favoured holding off until Dr Wright's report was published.

This week Mr Gray said he still believed council should have awaited the report.

It was too early to say if the district was likely to retain its frack-free status, he said.

Although he had not had the time to look at the commissioner's full report, he believed that provided those issuing consents had the correct parameters in place, fracking would not be likely to pose any risk.

Industry standards were improving all the time in that area, he said.

"I think it's fair to say too that there has been quite a bit of scaremongering on both sides [of the debate] over the past 12 months, which is why I thought the commissioner's report was a good idea," he said.

Kaikoura resident Ralph Hogan, who has spoken to the Kaikoura council about his concerns about fracking on several occasions, said he hoped Kaikoura would remain frack-free as a symbolic support of Christchurch.

"It would be premature for council to abandon the frack-free status before the follow-up review, due out next year, which promises to look at tightening controls, regulations, and transparency around fracking," he said.

"There is no current fracking going on in Canterbury so this position is not threatening any jobs. Kaikoura maintaining their frack-free status also sends the message they want that secondary report to be robust and complete."

Some would read Dr Wright's report as a green light to fracking, when at best it was amber, he said.

The Marlborough Express