Anti-frackers 'need to get real'

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 05:00 27/07/2011

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New Zealand's energy industry has gone on the warpath, accusing those against fracking of misleading the public.

The controversial procedure has come under the spotlight in Taranaki this year, with opponents raising concerns of damage to drinking water and air quality, and of cover-ups by the companies involved.

There is increasing concern about fracking overseas and it is banned in some countries.

Industry heavyweights said that in New Zealand, opposition to fracking appeared to be part of a campaign against all fossil fuel development.

But those opponents need to get real, a statement jointly released by Petroleum Exploration and Production Association, natural resource lobby organisation Straterra, and coal producer Solid Energy said.

The world is highly dependent on energy, and for the foreseeable future fossil fuels will be a large part of the energy mix.

"It would be unthinkable for New Zealand to do without oil and gas, or coal," the statement says.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a procedure mainly carried out in natural gas wells and coal-seam gas bearing seams to make the gas flow more freely.

A mixture of water, sand and chemical agents is pumped deep underground under great pressure to create fissures in the rock formations.

The New Zealand resource sector says fracking in this country is done properly and carefully.

"We have strict laws and the industry goes to every effort to ensure that is the case," it says.

The statement points out that fracking has been in existence for more than 50 years around the world and the processes, materials and chemicals used have evolved and advanced over time.

In New Zealand there have been fewer than 20 fracking operations, and no environmental issues have arisen from any of them.

"Fracking is not done within or anywhere near the water table," the statement says.

"Gas reservoirs typically lie well in excess of 1000 metres beneath the water table.

"Coal seam gas (CSG) reservoirs are shallower, but are still typically hundreds of metres below the water table."

In the New Zealand gas industry, fracking typically targets areas between 3000 metres and 4000 metres below the surface.

The shallowest operation for gas has been at 1400 metres deep in South Taranaki, where the water table was 300 metres deep.

And for coal seam gas trials carried out in Waikato in 2007, the fracking was done at 380 metres and the water table was 60 metres deep.

The statement says fracturing of rock occurs only at the desired depth, because the fracking fluid is contained by the well's steel casing until the target depth is reached.

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While much of the protest in New Zealand has centred on the composition of the additives in the fracking fluid, they must all be named, explained and approved by the Environmental Risk Management Authority. In the concentrations used, the chemicals are non-toxic and many are biodegradable.

"That's not an invitation to drink this, any more than one would drink dishwater," the statement adds. It says the New Zealand public is right to hold the gas and CSG industries to account, to ensure that fracking is done appropriately.

"To reinforce this, the New Zealand resource sector states that we have nothing to hide, and everything to gain from open dialogue with all interested parties on fracking, and on our activities generally," the statement says, calling for "a two-way conversation held in an atmosphere of mutual respect."  

SEEPING FROM THE FRACKS

Fracking fluid is typically 98 per cent water and sand, with the remaining 2 per cent various chemical additives.

The main chemicals for a fracking operation are: Friction reducer – for ease of pumping. Natural gel – to hold the sand in suspension.

Gel management system – to stabilise the gel until the sand is moved into fissures, and later weaken the gel to allow it to come back to the surface.

Clay stabiliser – to prevent clay in the reservoir rock from expanding on contact with water and clogging the reservoir.

Bactericide – to prevent bacterial action underground interfering with the gel management system.

The NZ resource sector says these chemicals are similar to many found in other commercial uses or in the household.

For example, the natural gel is guar gum which is also used in ice cream manufacture, the gel breaker is similar to chemicals used in household detergents, and the bactericide is similar to those in household sprays and hand-wash soaps.

- Taranaki Daily News

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