MEDIA RELEASE: Councils, consents, and a ‘fractured’ future for New Zealand

Climate Justice Taranaki urges councils to consider the full impacts of oil and gas extraction involving hydraulic fracturing (fracking), before granting consents. “Taranaki, East Coast, Canterbury, Southland and other regions targeted by aggressive industry campaigns are at grave risk of forever losing their clean water, green agriculture and valuable tourism revenues,” warns Emily Bailey of Climate Justice Taranaki. 

On 24th Nov 2011, Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) published a report concluding that “there is little risk to freshwater aquifers from properly conducted hydraulic fracturing operations in the Taranaki Region.”  This conclusion is built on assumptions like “relatively low permeability geological seals”. Yet research has shown that uncharted natural fissures and old wells could provide unexpected pathways for methane and chemicals (from newly fracked wells) to reach aquifers. Notably, there are over 360 abandoned onshore oil and gas wells in NZ, many with unknown integrity.

Instead of swiftly making an overly simplistic conclusion of “little risk”, based largely on information supplied by the industry, a prudent council that cares about public health and water security would collect its own data, examine existing research and seek independent, scientific inputs. The TRC report states that a GNS Science peer review supports its assessment and conclusions. GNS Science’s website tells us that its Chairman of the Board of Directors is also a Director of Todd Corporation and a consultant to Rio Tinto.

Do we trust the industry to scrutinise its own operations to safeguard our water quality?  Can we expect councils, with limited expertise and manpower, to effectively monitor every well and fracking operation? The TRC report lists 28 wells that were fracked between 2000–mid 2011. KA18 at Kapuni was fracked six times in ten months. Contaminated wastes are disposed of on land or by deep well injection.

During 2007–2009, two Cheal wells operated by Austral Pacific (jointly owned by Tag Oil) were leaking from suspected flawed well casings. Yet it was allowed to “continue to produce from both wells with the resultant loss of power fluid” and “no sampling of fresh groundwater was carried out” (TRC technical report, 2010). Tag Oil now aims to drill up to 30 wells at Cheal field and turn the East Coast into ‘Texas of the South’.

Sarah Roberts and David Morrison said TAG Oil had been fracking a number of times beside their property. Vibrations were felt in the ground at their house but they don’t know why. They  had not signed the affected party consent for the 16 new wells however TAG Oil had continued to drill and began again just before Christmas.  Their family are so concerned with their water supply that they no longer drink from it.

Property owner Margaret Smith rejected Todd Energy’s Christmas gift, writing: “I am very concerned about the environmental risks of your industry and believe we need to carefully conserve the remaining reserves as we move as fast as possible into sustainable alternative fuels. … The folly of this industry  upsets me every day.”  Smith lives some 500m from the Mangahewa-C well site, but did not know that nearby wells had been fracked multiple times.

Before August 2011, no resource consent was required for fracking and associated discharges in Taranaki. By 8th November, prior to the release of the risk assessment, three consents were already granted. “It would be disastrous if other local governments take TRC’s conclusion as an ‘all clear’ for the ever hungry oil and gas industry to frack and ruin our precious land and water. It’s akin to ‘putting the fox in charge of the hen house’,” says Bailey.


Sources: (19 Oct 2011) (19 Jan 2010)    (TRC 2010)  (22 Oct 2011)  (15 Jan 2012)