A Right to Informed Choice


By Filipa Hope

The current government has granted permits for much of Hawkes Bay to be mined by overseas Oil & Gas Companies  maybe even your property!

Without information I don’t think we really have any freedom of choice in this serious threat to our community. Without information we are like puppets played by those most able to manipulate public opinion.

I joined Don’t Frack the Bay 2 years ago after watching the movie Gaslands and learning this was planned for Hawkes Bay. I have never been politically active yet now I find myself organising public information meetings

Our approach is not to try and convince anyone of anything except that this is one issue everyone wants to learn more about because it affects all of us and also our children. We hope to raise questions in peoples minds and motivate them to seek out their own answers and questions and opinions.

We have several speakers at each meeting and I am usually one of them. We speak from experience and/or own investigations. In June 2012 the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, released an interim report on Fracking. Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing. – An unconventional method of oil and gas extraction which comes with many risks. This activity has been going on for 30 years in Taranaki.

This is the first and only New Zealand investigation into some of the risks and as such is a critically important document for information. I present some of the concerns and questions raised in this report at our meetings and do my best to represent only what the report says without adding my own opinions.

We are all waiting for the final PCE report which will have the Commissioners formal recommendations to goverment. It was due out before now but after the interim report the current government cut resources to this department and so the report has been delayed. It is hoped it will be out by the end of the year.

Many people, when asked, say the PCE interim report endorsed the safety of onshore drilling and the use of fracking. The government media releases still maintain the position that the report endorses the safety and supports a green light for this Industry. The truth is different.

The PCE’s report made some alarming interim findings about the New Zealand government’s oversight and regulations, and I quote from the report:

The (regulatory) system is complex and fragmented, making oversight extremely important. The potential for aquifers to be contaminated as a result of fracking is very real! Finding out who is responsible for what during different stages of the process has been a major exercise during this investigation. Such complexity works against open, transparent government, and important issues can fall between the cracks.

 The PCE’s report lists some examples of were cracks, so to speak, might appear.I quote from the report:

* “The risk of environmental damage depends on where a well is drilled Ð (yet) companies appear to decide where to drill with no guidance from either central or local government

* Companies are using different well casing design and construction standards (because the decision is after all up to them!).

* It is not clear who is responsible for ensuring well integrity.

* New Zealand does not have a well examination scheme.

* (Its not clear) who takes responsibility for assessing site-specific risks to the environment from fracking fluid or who takes responsibility for monitoring abandoned wells.

* It has been difficult to determine where regulatory responsibilities begin and end or how effectively they are being implemented.

* to a considerable extent, companies appear to be not only regulating themselves, but monitoring their own performance. ”

And another important quote from the report that is not mentioned in the media, is a warning I think you will agree needs our close consideration, and I quote:

“Drilling should only take place with great care, if indeed at all, if it is in the vicinity of major faults or aquifers.”

Yes, we have both!!!

The Commissioner addresses us on the East Coast directly in the report, and I quote:

“New Zealand appears to be poised on the brink of what could be a large and rapid expansion of oil and gas production. “Attention must be paid to the way in which risks scale up. The greatest potential for a rapid scaling up of fracking lies in the shale rock along the east of the North Island – TAG Oil estimate that several 1000’s of hydraulic fracturing treatments could take place on the East Coast”; Such rapid scaling up has led to well-publicised problems in other countries.

“The scale and speed of change that could occur requires forethought now. The current Government is hoping for and encouraging an economic future built largely on oil and gas. The question is whether the same effort is being put into preparing for the impacts it may have.”

 On page 70 of the report The Commissioner itemises 6 questions directly to those of us on the East Coast- regarding our increased risks because of seismic activity, water shortages, reliance on critical aquifer, limited toxic waste disposal options and more. The report says and I quote:

“With regard to fracking shale on the east coast of the North Island, these are questions that should be asked – and indeed answered!”

Not only do these questions remain unanswered, they are not yet even being asked by central or our local government.

One of the biggest questions for this region is can this activity be done without risking the contamination of our Aquifer?

The world expert on the subject of well casings, distinguished Professor of engineering at Cornell University, Dr Anthony Ingraffee, has publicly stated,

“We can expect 6.2% well casings to fail initially, 60% over 20 years, and all eventually. ALL well casings will fail eventually!”

 Of course. What can stand the test of time? Once in the ground a well can never be removed. When it is no longer operating viably it is abandoned (there are many abandoned wells in Taranaki).

Is the possibility of leaving a land covered in 1000’s of abandoned leaking wells a legacy we are prepared to risk leaving our children?

So many important questions that go unasked and unanswered!






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