Campaigner urges NZ to not follow Australian energy example
Wed, 29 Aug 2012 10:58a.m.
By Adrien Taylor
The fraught issue of fracking is back in the spotlight as an Australian green campaigner is calling on New Zealand not to follow in the footsteps of his country and exploit our natural gas reserves - but oil and gas companies here say there's nothing to worry about.
“You definitely shouldn't model yourself on Australia when it comes to regulation of the resource industries. What we've done in Australia is just allow the resource sector to go beserk,” says Australian environmentalist Drew Hutton.
In the heart of the Waikato, the Huntly Power Station is hungry for gas to provide up to 20 percent of the country's electricity.
Solid Energy has tested two gas extraction methods in the Waikato in recent years in an attempt to provide for the power station.
The first is called Underground Coal Gasification or UCG.
It involves drilling two wells into a coal seam deep underground. The rock is then dug out to link both tunnels - sometimes by blasting a mix of water, sand and chemicals, better known as "fracking". Then the coal seam is set on fire and fueled by oxygen, creating a gas.
Solid Energy says it uses "hydraulic linking", not "fracking" in their UCG pilot plant at Huntly: water, but no chemicals are blasted through the coal, and industry representatives say oil and gas exploration has a proven record here.
“The industry's been operating here safely for nearly 100 years and there have been no major incidents in New Zealand,” says Solid Energy’s chief executive David Robinson.
But some Huntly residents told 3 News that they're concerned about UCG and they use the example of the town of Centralia in Pennsylvania as an example of the risks involved in burning coal underground.
An underground coal seam was accidentally set alight beneath the town and 50 years on the fire is still burning and the ghost town remains virtually lifeless.
Although a similar situation is unlikely here, Mr Hutton says burning coal underground is dirty business.
The second method of extraction is Coal Seam Gas where fracking is often used to extract gas from underground coal seams.
This method was tested by Solid Energy the Waikato in 2007 and now they plan to use it in Taranaki where they say there's enough gas to run the Huntly power station for 45 years. Mr Hutton says the fossil fuel era is coming to an end, and any further investment is foolish.
“What we risk doing, in trying to extend the life of the fossil fuel era, is taking the basis out of so many industries that we could continue to conduct safely and sustainably for thousands of years more,” he says.
Oil and gas companies say they do care about the environment and they argue that the economic benefits of oil and gas exploration are significant.
“I think if New Zealand can develop its oil and gas resources that's fantastic for our economy. Right now we need real economic development in some of our regional parts of New Zealand, we need jobs for New Zealanders,” says Mr Robinson.
Campaigner Alvina Edwards says one look at Huntly proves the money goes to the people at the top of the pyramid - not the workers.
“They're poor so I don't believe it's the wealth and the economics and the employment that they say,” she says.
The issue of how best to meet the growing energy demands of our high consumption society isn't about to be solved overnight.
But Mr Hutton is urging New Zealand to learn from our Australian neighbours and quench the never-ending thirst for cheap energy in a more sustainable way than they are.
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29/08/2012 11:11:14 a.m.
Donna Burns wrote:
More dam earthquakes to come if they get their way!
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