OPINION: As part of its coverage of Jan Wright's report into fracking, a major New Zealand newspaper included an intriguing illustration.
In the picture are a number of anti-fracking protesters, and on the placards they wield are the words "No Fracking" and "Confused?"
It's not known if the picture was picked deliberately to convey a certain message or because it simply had something to do with fracking, but it has, nonetheless, illustrated a weakness in the interim report by the parliamentary commissioner for the environment.
It was hoped that Dr Wright's much-anticipated document would provide some clarity in a divisive issue seemingly fought over by the murky extremes of those who would claim either corporate and local-body conspiracy or fossil-fuel-hating nuttiness.
But it appears Dr Wright has decided to have an each-way bet that leaves both sides claiming a win and the great majority in the middle still wondering what the fuss is about and, well, confused.
For those who decry the use of fracking the report raises concerns about environmental risk, uneven and potentially dodgy practices, and lax regulation and oversight by authorities. But Dr Wright sees no need for a moratorium, for now at least, and also believes any risks are manageable.
Not surprisingly, and quite rightly, the environmental lobby sees the report as vindication for their stance on the controversial extraction method. And they highlight Dr Wright's concerns about the potential for problems and the need for more and better rules.
But the industry also sees it as support for the science and the way most of its members have been conducting themselves.
Which pretty much brings us back to square one. It's status quo: Taranaki anti-fracking advocate Sarah Roberts and the Greens continue their vociferous calls for a moratorium and the oil and gas industry continues to defend its practices.
And Dr Wright's report gives them every reason to do so. In fact, the only real loser, apart from the majority of commonsense Kiwis looking for some real and clear answers, seems to be Taranaki Regional Council.
Dr Wright wrote that "companies appear to be not only regulating themselves, but monitoring their own performance".
And in an opinion piece that ran with her report, she noted that companies "are perhaps being trusted rather too much".
The TRC has pointed to other parts of her report to defend its record, but it's doubtful senior manager Fred McLay will be raising a glass of fracking fluid to that vote of little-confidence, while Roberts and her fellow campaigners might be charging their own glasses of Kiwi mineral water.
Especially given that they were dismissed by the local authority as "deliberately mischievous and plainly vexatious" for highlighting concerns that Dr Wright has since endorsed.
All sides will now be anxious to read the full report, which is expected around the middle of next year. Not least the great majority of us keen to get some answers, some clarity, and some resolution.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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