Editorial: Oil and gas drilling report deserves more

Last updated 05:00 06/06/2014

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OPINION: Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright is now having her own report on oil and gas drilling explained to her from on high. It's unlikely she's enjoying the experience.

Oh ho, say Environment Minister Amy Adams and Energy Minister Simon Bridges, Wright's report finds the environmental impact from petroleum development, including hydraulic fracturing, can be effectively managed if best practice is followed.

Yes, but the ministers are seriously glossing over the bit where she concludes, no less emphatically, that "can be" isn't the same as "is". She says plainly that as things stand, the Government's regulation isn't adequate to manage the environmental risks of oil and gas drilling.

And Wright is certainly not saying that she supports the expansion of the oil and a gas industry in New Zealand - because the local environmental effect is not as big an issue as the global effect of climate change. We need green growth, she says, and this isn't it.

Wright has, however, given an on-balance clearance for hydraulic fracturing. No great surprise, considering her earlier finding back in 2012 that fracking can be done safely provided it's done with detailed, incisive, well-policed government oversight and regulation.

And that's still a serious issue for her. She has called for a national policy statement to guide local authorities facing applications from oil and gas companies.

The Government did release guidelines in March. Wright doesn't seem a whole hell of a lot impressed. And she writes persuasively of the lack of cohesion.

The Resource Management Act, she warns, isn't well-suited to managing cumulative effects. Instead, it concentrates far too closely on precedents. Problem being: "The straw that breaks the camel's back generally receives consent more readily than the first straw".

Labour is urging the Government to implement her recommendations. However, the ministers reply, merely, that any future review of the guidelines will be "informed by the commissioner's report".

In other words, it sounds like a less than energised "duly noted, but we're monitoring things anyway".

The report deserves more than that because Wright, who is a measured thinker rather than a zealot, has not pronounced herself reassured about where we're headed.

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- The Southland Times

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