By Tova O’Brien
3 News can reveal previously unreleased details of one the few sites in New Zealand to use the controversial method of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
In the warmer months, Orauea stream in Southland is a great trout fishing spot. In the 1990s it was also a great dumping spot for fracking fluid and waste water.
“The industry's very much assuring people it's got everything under control but when you look at some of the things that have happened in the past - this incident you’re talking about and up in the Taranaki - I think it pays for the public to be very watchful,” says Environment Southland councillor Robert Guyton.
A now-defunct company set up two wells in 1995 to prospect for coal seam gas just south of Ohai in Southland.
Each well was fracked using water, sand and 95 litres of a chemical which breaks down into formaldehyde.
The chemical was created by Halliburton - the company associated with one of the world's worst environmental disasters, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. And usefully it was Halliburton providing the safety information about the chemical.
“There were some very unsafe practices adopted there and the public just weren't given a say and the council wasn't even aware of it in 2012,” says Greens energy spokesman Gareth Hughes.
That's because environmental monitoring stopped as soon as the project did.
But over the 21 months it was active, more than 11 million litres of waste water - including fracking chemicals and potentially carcinogenic coal residue - was dumped in the stream.
“The stream was looked at with regard to its ability to assimilate such waste water,” says Environment Southland consents manager John Engel.
“The nature of it was such that it was relatively clean water but it did contain materials from the coal seam that were not normal for that stream.”
The permit - granted by Environment Southland - to dump the waste was non-notified, meaning only the bare minimum of people knew.
“Should locals in Southland be concerned? Well no, I have no understanding as to why they should be. Of course it happened in '94, '95,” says acting Energy and Resources Minister Steven Joyce.
Environment Southland couldn't even remember that fracking had taken place in Southland when first asked.
When asked if all councils needed to be audited, the Government says no - the councils are responsible.