Climate Justice Taranaki warns of the growing earthquake risks from deepwell injection (DWI) of waste fluids from oil and gas fracking and production. The Minister for Environment condemns the disposal of such waste on land but advocates for DWI instead, apparently unaware of the risks.
“It’d be good if the regional council follows the Ministry’s new Guidelines and stops issuing new consents (or extending the current ones) for the discharge of waste fluids from wellsites onto land. But is it safe to keep having more DWI around us?” asked Catherine Cheung, researcher of Climate Justice Taranaki.
Most of Taranaki’s twenty or more consented DWI sites sit dangerously close (within 5km) to active seismic faults (e.g. Inglewood and Norfolk faults). From 2009-2012, Greymouth Petroleum injected over 231,000 m3 (equivalent to 92 Olympic sized pools) of waste fluids down its disposal wells while Todd Taranaki injected 274,000 m3 (or 109 pools), all near to faults and some close to schools and towns. Four other companies also have DWI operations here.
According to a study published in the world renowned Science Magazine in July 2013, areas subjected to extensive DWI activities are especially prone to damaging earthquakes, triggered remotely by large, natural quakes. Since 2009, Oklahoma has recorded 40 times more earthquakes than in the last 30 years. The largest, at 5.7 magnitude in November 2011, has been tied to wastewater injection and an 8.8 M earthquake in Chile.
“It does not take much to see that Taranaki, with decades of DWI, is highly likely to be at significant risk, when large earthquakes hit elsewhere. We want the government to wake up, rather than pushing for more fracking and DWI without considering all the risks carefully”, said Catherine Cheung, researcher of Climate Justice Taranaki.
In the US, Arkansas regulators had shutdown four disposal wells in 2011 after a series of earthquakes, Ohio had banned injection wells in certain formations and insisted on seismic monitoring, and Oklahoma plans to tighten monitoring of injection pressure by well operators.
“In New Zealand, there is little research, monitoring or regulation to ensure that DWI is being carried out safely or that it can be up-scaled without serious consequences,” warned Cheung.
GNS has admitted in 2012 that there are considerable limitations in the GeoNet system and there is no seismic monitoring being conducted specifically for fracking or DWI. A 2013 hydrogeologic report commissioned by the Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) highlighted the complexity of the issues and the technological and financial limitations in fully assessing the extent of aquifers, the underground environment and the capacity available for DWI. Earlier this month, the TRC stated that the information and data required to assess and monitor the potential effects of DWI may not be required in consent applications or conditions, but may be gathered as part of the compliance monitoring programmes. Yet this is all critical knowledge needed to avoid groundwater contamination and other environmental catastrophes.
“Can we count on this sort of monitoring and regulatory regime to protect us from the likely dangers of DWI? With the onslaught for more oil and gas across NZ, the number of DWI sites will rise steeply to meet industry’s demand to dispose its drilling, fracking and production wastes. Why is the government pushing for such risky business when there are huge opportunities for safe, renewable energies and green economy?” concluded Cheung.
Related media coverage:
Government sets best-practice fracking guidelines (NZ Herald, 28 March)
Morning rural news (Radio NZ, 1 April)
New guidelines for fracking welcome (TDN, 2 April)