Concern as gas drilling intensifies

The controversial fracking technique will be used in Taranaki during a multimillion-dollar drilling campaign on New Zealand's two oldest gasfields.

Shell Todd Oil Services has announced a drilling campaign on the Maui A and B offshore production platforms, the Ruru-1 offshore exploration wellsite, and in the onshore Kapuni field.

The programme, which could see drilling at all four sites at once, will be one of the most intense seen in the region and is expected to give the Taranaki economy a boost.

Two new rigs are being built for the programme, one in Europe and the other in China.

Drilling is expected to begin next month at Maui B and will last for about nine months.

Drilling at the Kapuni field will use the fracking technique, STOS general manager Rob Jager confirmed yesterday.

The technique involves injecting a cocktail of chemicals, some of them toxic, into wells. Environmentalists fear the method could contaminate the water table.

They plan to step up their battle to stop fossil fuel mining in New Zealand.

Environmental groups, community organisations and iwi gathered at a hui in Auckland at the weekend to plan protest action.

Those at the meeting included representatives of the Parihaka settlement and Climate Justice Taranaki, and fracking was just one of the items on the agenda.

"Underground fracturing – fracking – for oil and gas extraction is already occurring in Taranaki, and is being planned for areas throughout the country," a statement issued after the hui said.

"Fracking has devastating effects on water, land and air quality and human health.

"The Government is pushing the expansion of the fossil fuels sector contrary to the need for a global transition towards clean energy."

Greenpeace climate campaigner Steve Abel said those represented at the hui intend taking peaceful action to ensure that New Zealand's energy future was a clean one.

The growing controversy over the procedure has prompted Taranaki Regional Council to change the rules about resource consents for the procedure.

The council confirmed yesterday that it now requires oil and gas exploration companies to apply for resource consents to undertake hydraulic fracturing of zones deep underground to make them flow hydrocarbons.

Director of resource management Fred McLay said the change was introduced last week, following a legal opinion that formal resource consents may be needed for fracking.

"Up until now our opinion has been that since in Taranaki fracking has absolute minimal environmental effect, it did not require consent.

"But then we sought the legal opinion, and as a result we have changed the rules so there can be no doubt in the eyes of the public that the effect is minimal."

The council has now written to the exploration companies, advising them of the change.

Yesterday, Mr Jager said STOS was comfortable with the change.

"We've been fracking successfully and safely for years," he said.

"The depths we will be targeting will be between 3000 metres and 4000 metres, which will be a very long way away from any aquifers.

"So in principle we will have no issue with any new council requirements."

Taranaki Daily News