Fracking debate heating up in NZ

02:37, Aug 16 2011

Heated debate over fracking, the mining process which could be used to extract gas in western Southland, is raging in the gas heartland of Taranaki.

A protest group, Climate Justice Taranaki, has called for a ban or moratorium on the practice, which it believes threatens aquifiers with toxic chemicals.

The issue has become an environmental flashpoint across the globe, but Taranaki is the first New Zealand region where there have been anti-fracking protests.

"What we are seeing, especially in the United States and Australia, is groundwater aquifiers being depleted and poisoned by toxic chemicals," Climate Justice spokeswoman Emily Bailey said. "The resource companies don't seem to be telling us what's going on."

Fracking is conventionally used to improve the flow of oil and gas wells by injecting a water-chemical mix into a well and subjecting it to high pressure, which forces the rock surrounding the well to crack open, releasing more oil and gas. In Southland, it could be used to extract shale gas from potentially huge deposits recently discovered under the Waiau Basin.

Anti-frackers believe the practice uses toxic chemicals which can permeate underground aquifiers and contaminate water.

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The panic over fracking for shale gas was ignited by a provocative film, Gasland by Josh Fox, which claimed to expose the huge environmental damage caused by fracking in parts of the United States.

The oil and gas industry in New Zealand has fought back against the protests, saying that the practice is safe and New Zealand's environmental regulations are more stringent than in the US.

At an gas event on Wednesday evening, New Plymouth's Mayor, Harry Duynhoven, spoke out against anti-frackers.

Mr Duynhoven, who was associate minister of energy under the last Labour government, said the public was being fed false information about the dangers of fracking.

The Southland Times