Council gives assurances on fracking

The Taranaki Regional Council has defended its performance after a report questioned the way fracking was being monitored in New Zealand.

In an interim report on hydraulic fracturing released by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment on Tuesday, commissioner Dr Jan Wright said she could not be confident "operational best practices are actually being implemented and enforced".

In a letter to the Taranaki Daily News TRC chief executive Basil Chamberlain said the report showed the environmental risk associated with hydraulic fracturing can be effectively managed.

He focused on two of Dr Wright's statements saying they were in line with the council's findings that no significant environmental effects attributable to fracking had been found.

Dr Wright wrote in her report: "To date, there is no evidence that fracking has caused groundwater contamination in New Zealand, and at the current scale of operations, the risk appears low."

Mr Chamberlain said although the most common method of disposing of liquid waste, deep-well injection, could result in wastewater going into aquifers, the commissioner states "there does not appear to be any evidence that this has occurred in New Zealand".

"These findings concur with the council's position, based on thousands of site visits and inspections, analyses of thousands of air and water samples, and hundreds of bio-monitoring surveys associated with oil and gas activities."

Mr Chamberlain would not talk to the Daily News about Dr Wright's report, either when it was first released or yesterday, instead pointing to a statement on the council's website.

The statement says the council agrees with Dr Wright that the regulatory frameworks around fracking, and oil and gas development in general, are quite complex and worthy of review.

"This council is working closely with government agencies on a number of relevant reviews aimed at improving the effectiveness and efficiency of regulation of the sector, and providing appropriate public assurance."

He mentions Dr Wright referring to the landfarming of waste solids and saying these may contain heavy metals and hydraulic fracturing fluids.

In Taranaki, landfarming was a consented and monitored activity, with operators required to meet specified loadings and concentrations to comply with recognised environmental standards and guidelines, Mr Chamberlain said.

"For example, levels of any heavy metals must and do meet New Zealand agricultural guidelines at time of application."

Localised contamination at the Shell Todd Oil Services Ltd (STOS) Kapuni well sites had been well publicised and was referred to in the commissioner's report, Mr Chamberlain said.

The issue is predominantly one of soil contamination and expert advice notes there is little risk to water supplies.

It arose from practices that took place before the existence of the Resource Management Act and, indeed, regional councils, he said.

"The nature of the contamination, operator information, and the fact that the issue involves both fractured and unfractured wells, confirms that hydraulic fracturing is not the root cause."

Mr Chamberlain said Dr Wright's report comes against a backdrop of continuous improvement and better risk management.

"Well-site operators have become increasingly focused on improving their health, safety and environmental practices over the years, taking advantage of scientific and technological advances to allow, for example, the use of water-based fluids in processes such as hydraulic fracturing.

"For its part, this council continually reviews and improves its own regulatory and monitoring performance, and also takes advantage of scientific and technical advances."

Taranaki Daily News