Christchurch's frack-free status hailed

SAM SACHDEVA
Last updated 05:00 13/04/2012

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Christchurch has become New Zealand's first fracking-free city in a move hailed by opponents of the controversial mining practice.

The Christchurch City Council yesterday voted unanimously to declare the city a fracking-free zone.

Fracking – hydraulic fracturing – involves injecting water and chemicals deep into underground rocks to fracture them in an attempt to release oil and natural gas.

It has been banned in some countries after concerns over water and air pollution, and has been linked to small earthquakes.

In New Zealand, Parliamentary Environment Commissioner Jan Wright has launched an investigation in response to growing concerns. The Government has ruled out a moratorium during the investigation.

At yesterday's meeting, the Spreydon-Heathcote Community Board asked the council to declare the city fracking-free because of the concerns.

Board member Paul McMahon said the council needed to take a stance as the Government had declined to intervene. "What we're saying is, stick up for your local people because central government isn't listening."

Cr Barry Corbett said: "I think it's very silly for us, for one, to possibly affect our water with chemicals, and two, to possibly cause seismic issues."

Cr Yani Johanson said the potential risks associated with fracking meant it should be banned.

"I don't think we really get a second chance with the environment if something goes wrong, so it really seems to be that caution is the best approach," he said.

Councillors resolved to discuss the issue with Environment Canterbury (ECan), which is in charge of processing fracking-related consents, and to call on other local authorities to declare their areas fracking-free.

After the meeting, McMahon said the council's decision made it the first citywide authority to take an official stance against fracking.

Mayor Bob Parker said it sent "a very powerful signal" to the rest of the country about the potential dangers of fracking.

"It is a big step forward and a bold statement by the city, and it does reflect a broad level of concern right across the community."

The council wanted to protect its "beautiful" water supply and ensure seismic activity in the city was not aggravated, he said.

He was not aware of any applications for fracking consent within the city boundaries, but companies considering an application would now be aware of the council's opposition.

While ECan was responsible for granting fracking consents, the council would lodge an objection to any applications and consider appealing against any decision to grant a permit.

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An ECan spokeswoman said the regional council's position was the same as in a briefing paper to ECan commissioners.

The document said ECan did not have any specific rules for fracking but had policies that would apply to fracking activities.

Any consent application would have to state what the fracking proposal involved, the potential environmental effects and how they would be be managed, as well as other criteria.

It was likely any fracking applications would be publicly notified and open for public submissions.

Green Party energy spokesman Gareth Hughes said the city council's decision was a "big boost".

"I think this is really significant. It's a unanimous vote and it sends a clear signal to the Government."

He said the Greens would continue to push for a moratorium on fracking until Wright's report was completed.

Energy Minister Phil Heatley could not be reached for comment, and a spokesman for Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said he had "no comment to add".

- The Press

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