Parliament’s environment watchdog says she’s not confident “best practices” around fracking are being followed but says a moratorium is unjustified.
Dr Jan Wright, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, unveiled her interim report today on the controversial oil and gas extraction process which she has been investigating since March.
However, she made no recommendations on how to make fracking safer and will release a final report next year.
Fracking involves pumping a mix of chemicals, sand and water at high pressure deep into the earth to release oil and gas.
It has been banned in some countries because of concerns it pollutes water supplies and possibly even causes earthquakes.
Ms Wright says regulation of fracking in New Zealand is too light-handed and fragmented and the Government needs more oversight.
“At this stage, I cannot be confident that operational best practices are actually being implemented and enforced in this country,” she says in the report.
“Companies are perhaps being trusted too much to do the right thing...[in] protecting health and safety as well as the environment.”
Ms Wright says she had to “unravel the labyrinthine roles” of central, regional and local government agencies in compiling her report and that this “complexity” works against transparency.
She also says fracking hasn’t earned a “social licence” from the communities where it is being carried out.
But despite calls for a moratorium, Ms Wright says it is “not justified” based on evidence, she says.
“I would have to see something convincing and alarming to call a moratorium but I am not ruling it out,” she says.
The report points to four key areas that must be prioritised in order to protect the environment from dangers relating to fracking:
- Choosing where to drill;
- Designing and constructing the well;
- Avoiding spills and leaks on the surface;
- Disposing of waste.
Ms Wright says poor management of any of these areas could lead to groundwater contamination by the fluids used to extract or those being extracted.
She also raised concerns about the potential for fracking to trigger earthquakes, especially if extraction fluids made their way into an already stressed fault.
The next report, due mid-2013, will examine the management and monitoring of risks.
GREENS RENEW CALL FOR MORATORIUM
The Green Party says the report proves that fracking is not safe and they have renewed their calls for a moratorium.
“The fact that the PCE cannot not guarantee that world best practice is being implemented in New Zealand and has pointed out many potential gaps in regulation is in itself a compelling case to implement a moratorium on fracking,” says MP Gareth Hughes.
He says a robust framework needs to be put in place before fracking expands beyond Taranaki.
“Renewable energy will always be cleaner and safer than fracking and is a better future for New Zealand,” says Mr Hughes.
GOVT: CLEAR GUIDELINES ON THE WAY
Environment Minister Amy Adams says she accepts the findings of the interim report and has instructed her ministry to produce clear fracking guidelines.
She says the guidelines will help distinguish the roles of central and local government in controlling fracking.
“It is important that New Zealanders are confident in how the practice of fracking is managed,” says Ms Adams.
She says a number of changes have been made to oil exploration laws that ensure “best international practice” is adhered to.