Report gives fracking all clear

CLEAN ENOUGH TO DRINK: Fred McLay drinks a glass of water taken from the Cheal B drilling site.
CLEAN ENOUGH TO DRINK: Fred McLay drinks a glass of water taken from the Cheal B drilling site.

A new report into fracking says there is no evidence the controversial process has caused environmental problems in Taranaki.

The report was prepared by the Taranaki Regional Council as opposition to the procedure has grown increasingly vocal this year.

One of the chief investigators was so confident about water safety he drank water from one of the most contentious industrial sites in the region to show it is safe.

Fred McLay, TRC's director of resource management, had a glass of water from Ngaere's Cheal B site yesterday afternoon.

Earlier he had presented the findings of the report to a TRC meeting, saying the authors had "not found evidence of related environmental problems" from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into a well to allow gas to flow freely.

Taranaki rock is so thick it seals chemicals and gas from the fracking away from the fresh water.

The report found there was little risk to fresh water based on these geological factors and the contractors doing fracking were experienced and used "good industry practice".

Fracking requires TRC consent as of August this year.

Regarding Cheal, Mr McLay said three wells had been drilled to 1750m deep, while the fresh water was 600m down.

"There is very little risk, if any risk, to the fresh water aquifer here. There is one heck of an effort goes into well designs.

"I have actually offered to drink the water, I'm so certain [that it's safe]."

The council's findings were peer-reviewed and agreed on by a GNS scientist.

But opponents say there are inaccuracies in those details and the report's conclusions.

Climate Justice Taranaki spokeswoman Emily Bailey said the group was not surprised at the council's findings, given its "track record of negligent monitoring".

"Of course TRC can report no damage as they have made it almost impossible to find any," she said.

"Our stance always remains that TRC will not find adverse effects because their insufficient policy, monitoring requirements and breach-response plans and their lack of public consultation avoids the finding of any adverse effects."

Ms Bailey said the oil industry claimed fracking was safe because it took place thousands of metres from freshwater aquifers.

"At the Manutahi wells in South Taranaki, the distance between fresh water and where fracking took place was only 257 metres," she claimed.

"Furthermore, the report mentions the possibility of leakage from the hydraulic fracturing well-casing due to defective installation or cementing.

"This is exactly what happened at a Cheal well a couple of years ago and should be an alarm bell for all of us."

The TRC has earlier this year said the incident at Cheal was not related to fracking.

TRC's report said there were 638 onshore and offshore wells in Taranaki, with 28 of them subject to fracking on 43 occasions.

The fluid pumped down into the wells for fracking is 2 per cent chemical and 98 per cent water and "proppant"  sand.

TRC say it is mainly water-based fluids used in Taranaki.


McLay fronted Taranaki media with two glasses and a jug of Ngaere springwater at the Cheal B drilling site yesterday.

"This is not a stunt, I'm a groundwater person, happy to back up the science with some proof of the science," the Taranaki Regional Council's director of resource management said.

He had filled his jug from a spring that comes up underneath the drilling site and heads to the tributary where Cheal opponent Sarah Roberts and her family told him they used to take water from.

"Good health," Mr McLay said and downed a glass of the water. "It's got a little bit of iron in it," he declared. He ended up drinking three glasses to keep photographers happy.

He said people needed to understand that streams on the surface were connected to the fresh water, while the water deep underground was salt because the land was reclaimed from the sea. "Fresh water has lifted and driven the salt water out."

The Daily News had also invited Ms Roberts to be on site, but she did not respond. Tag Oil chief operating officer Drew Cadenhead likewise could not be there, but he would also be happy for a drink.

"It's beautiful, beautiful spring water," he said.

"We have been using that same water for drinking at the rig for months."

Taranaki Daily News reporter Jared Smith also drank a glass of the water, saying afterwards that it "tasted fine" and that he would inform readers of any ill effects.

Taranaki Daily News