Public divided over fracking risk

23:18, Aug 08 2011
tdn frack stand
Public opinion over fracking policies is as divided

Public opinion over fracking policies is as divided as it is between industry professionals and anti-fracking activists.

A Daily News website poll attracted almost 1000 people who were asked whether they were concerned over the use of the process in New Zealand oil and gas exploration.

Fifty seven per cent, or 534 people, said they believed the process would endanger the environment while 401 people, or 43 per cent, believe the process is necessary to move the industry forward.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is where large amounts of water containing chemicals and sand are pumped under intense pressure into the ground to fracture geological formations, allowing extraction of hard-to-reach natural gas and oil.

Anti-frackers believe the process of shattering deep rock formations – with what they say is a cocktail of dangerous chemicals – risks the contamination of water sources, and earthquakes.

Climate Justice Taranaki yesterday called for a country-wide ban on the process.

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They accuse the oil and gas industry of using PR agents to convince the public the chemicals they use are similar to those used in the household. But New Zealand industry professionals say anti-frackers are scaremongering as part of a campaign against fossil fuel development and "need to get real".

Taranaki Regional Council resource management director, Fred McLay, said the council was doing a survey to review all occasions the fracking has been used in the region.

However, he believed the risk of fracking was low as it happened three to four kilometres below the ground while the water table was at around 300 metres below ground.

Karl Browne of Oakura-based Geotech Ltd, a company that specialises in groundwater exploration said a big chunk of freshwater resources were much deeper. Mr Browne, a geologist who has been involved with drilling for over 20 years, was not opposed to the use of fracking but said the only way the debate could be settled was with full disclosure from those conducting the drilling.

"No-one can say one way or another if the activities are going to jeopardise freshwater resources," he said.

It was not just necessary to know what what chemicals were being used in the drilling but also the aspects of well construction and integrity and the pressures they were operating at, he said.

Executive officer of the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association John Pfahlert said there was clearly work to be done to show people that fracking was safe.

"That's perhaps not surprising, it is a technical issue that does take a bit of getting your head around," he said.

Climate Justice Taranaki spokeswoman Emily Bailey said the council's recent decision to require resource consent for fracking was barbless as it was a non-notified consent, so the public would be unaware.

Public submissions to the upcoming freshwater plan would also be fruitless as it was taken to "key stakeholders" with financial interests first. "We want to be considered key stakeholders because we drink the water," she said.

Taranaki Daily News