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New Zealand Poised to Be the Next Frontier for Fracking

Some Kiwis Worry that the Process Could Exacerbate Earthquake Threat

Earlier this year, New Zealand’s Canterbury region was shaken to its core by a devastating earthquake that literally ripped the community apart. Today, as people there continue cleaning up, many feel like they are once again under siege. The new threat: hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) for natural gas and shale oil, a procedure that has been linked to increased seismic activity.

Because oil and gas reserves are owned by the Crown, all New Zealanders should benefit from its development. But many people are worried about increased off-shore oil drilling and natural gas and shale oil exploration, and wonder how more fossil fuel extraction will impact the environment. The Green Party has called for a moratorium on natural gas fracking, and the party’s success in the recent general election reflects public support for that position.

Fracking is not new to New Zealand. The Taranaki Basin has the country’s most developed petroleum reserves, and since 2003 around 30 wells have been fracked here. That’s a drop in the bucket by international standards. But if the industry has its way, those 30 wells will be just the beginning. TAG Oil believes the rest of New Zealand is severely under-explored and is “one of the few remaining high potential untapped oil and gas frontiers in the world.” It says the country’s oil-rich fractured shale source-rock formations are a “widespread exploration target with major unconventional oil and gas potential.”

Bernie Napp, a senior policy analyst at the natural resource lobby organization Straterra and a vocal fracking supporter, says in New Zealand this practice is used to extract coal seam gas and occasionally natural gas onshore or nearshore. Fracking in New Zealand is mainly done more than 3,000 meters below the surface, and the industry is quick to point out that without fracking some current hydrocarbon production would not be viable.

Fracking seems to have snuck very quietly into New Zealand. While the industry is busy preparing for what it hopes will be a boom decade, many citizens are getting worried. The industry insists the practice is safe. Yet there are no regulations to specifically govern fracking, and there is also a lack of independent research into impacts on the country’s environment. Fracking opponents are calling for an independent investigation.

There are some big issues getting people nervous. The foremost concern is that fracking fluids could leak into aquifers and contaminate. In response to, the Taranaki Regional Council recently investigated fracking impacts. A chief investigator publicly drank water from one of the most contentious industrial sites to rebuff water quality concerns. In a joint statement the industry suggested opponents need to get real: "Fracking is not done within or anywhere near the water table," Straterra said in a statement. However, the Waikato community, where fracking was used as shallow as only a few hundred metres, begs to differ.

Secondly, there are concerns about fracking fluid themsvles. The Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand has denied that the frack fluids contain the so-called

BTEX group – the highly carcinogenic chemicals benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Straterra’s Napp says the chemicals used in New Zealand’s fracking fluid are “non-toxic to humans.” But that surely doesn’t mean people want the chemicals in their water supplies.

And last, but most certainly not least, is a worry about earthquakes. In New Zealand the industry is forging ahead in some of the country’s most earthquake-prone areas. Canterbury University recently hosted a fracking Q&A session during which Michael Hasting, an energy industry geophysicist said “there is no doubt that fracking does cause earthquakes.” He stressed that the quakes are generally small, although the practice can trigger larger quakes. No doubt this type of comment makes locals more anxious. “Fracking is banned in France and halted in parts of United States, Canada, Australia and South Africa,” says Reuben Hunt, a frustrated local Canterbury resident. “So why are we even considering this option when we don't have the same population or energy pressures?”

Hunt believes that fracking has every potential to spark more earthquakes. In a community that’s still shaken, fracking is something he would be much happier without.

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Comments

I came across this article looking for info on fracking’s impact on triggering earthquakes, as we are having increased activity where previously it was negligible: wondering if the seismic activity in NZ might be resultant from fracking.

It seems to me that any time corporations involved in the production of “risky” energy ventures expound on the safety & integrity of their practice, we, as consumers, should be more than a little leery. Deep sea oil drilling is said to be “safe” but look at the catastrophe that occurred in 2010 with a site only 136 ft deep. Same with nuclear energy production & meltdowns. Sadly, humans are silly, greedy, forgiving creatures with a short memory & even shorter foresight. Nothing will be done until something horrible happens & even then the collateral damage will be rationalized. When will we learn that minimizing our impact is the only thing that will save us & demand wind & solar energy as the safer alternatives. Instead of finding more finite types of energy, we could utilizing what we have in abundance.

By CJ on Thu, January 26, 2012 at 6:44 am

Bernie:

There are ways that cars can be made a lot safer but car makers are more interested in making them cheaper.

Making roads lenticular is one way that government can reduce risk but the cost/benefit is deemed insufficient for it to be applied everywhere. Seat belts are mandatory in all cars and if you’re willing to pay more you can get a car with air bags (which carry their own risk), ABS etc. You can take defensive driving courses and if you really want to you can buy a tank and feel safe in the knowledge that anything that hits you will be like a bug on your windscreen.

None of this changes the fact that cars are dangerous and destructive things. That our society has chosen to design our cities around the car and not the human being is an example of the short sightedness and irrationality in our planning.

So having seen the mass destruction of the auto mobile, why do we continue to mass produce them and build more roads? Because there is money to be made of course! The production of cars, the sale of gasoline, the construction of roads… Then there are the lobbyists that are paid to convince us that more roads and more cars is a good thing, never mind that this entails more sprawl, more pollution and more fatalities.

I guess the silver lining is that if you’re awaiting an organ transplant you can look forward to when a compatible donor, sooner or later, dies in a car crash.

By Tavis on Sat, December 17, 2011 at 1:28 am

Risk - yes, a tricky area. Should we have air travel, considering that planes crash occasionally killing all on board? For that matter, perhaps, we should ban all motor vehicles because people get killed in car crashes. Risk management applies to everything we do, from farming to forestry, to conservation. There is a debate to be had in this area.

Criticisms of the report - suggest you contact Taranaki Regional Council. Companies that are members of Straterra walk the talk. While we purport to speak at a national level on behalf of the sector, obviously, we cannot control the behaviour of companies that are not members.

By Bernie Napp on Thu, December 08, 2011 at 12:46 pm

@Bernie:

Statements about risk concern me because it admits that there is a risk attached to these kinds of things (which there always is) but prevails upon us an attitude that these risks can be always be safely managed.

There are all sorts of problems I see with this attitude, we have seen time and time again how negligence, incompetence and corruption can lead to breakdowns in safeguards. Also let us not be fooled into overestimating the abilities and integrity of professional experts.

In any forecast or report there is a margin for error, the scale of this error is magnified by an echo chamber of people who all have a stake in the growth of the industry. This problem is altogether vastly exacerbated where ever industry is allowed to lobby and attempt to insert themselves into the policy making process.

The GNS site says ” We apply our scientific knowledge from the atomic to the planetary scale to create wealth, protect the environment, and improve the safety of people.” This might seem like a benign statement, until you begin to question if these objectives are even reconcilable. Can we create wealth (by extracting resources) and at the same time protect the environment and improve human safety? There is a lot of evidence to the contrary but to even begin to answer this question, one must further examine the general relationship between mankind and our environment. Furthermore we must deeply question the nature of the economic system (and its inter-relatedness to politics) and the ideas on which it is based.

By Tavis on Thu, December 08, 2011 at 12:26 am

Said peer-reviewed report was based on information selectively released by New Zealand operators (of which one company refused to disclose anything). I found the report to be largely superficial & mildly contradicting in its statements. Feel Free to form your own opinion -  http://trc.govt.nz/assets/Publications/guidelines-procedures-and-publications/Fresh-water-2/hf2011-w.pdf

Seems Mr Napp wont be walking the talk? - http://www.straterra.co.nz/In The News

By Todd Ross on Tue, December 06, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Your case is rested on your position in the industry not on any personal attacks of which I have read none

By ros on Tue, December 06, 2011 at 6:32 pm

When people resort to personal attacks, it means they have run out of arguments. I rest my case.

By Bernie Napp on Tue, December 06, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Rather rich of Mr Napp to sniff this out so quickly, but I guess that’s what he is paid to do.
Anyone seriously considering Mr Napp’s statements, needn’t look to far for relevant evidence, that hydraulic fracturing must not continue. here’s a link to Straterra’s Myth shattering evidence, that should leave concerned people such as us “well-informed” http://www.straterra.co.nz/Exposing+the+myths

“If I am a “vocal supporter”, it is because we in industry have had a gutsful of the ill-informed commentary appearing everywhere.” - Just a shame he’s so pissed at concerned citizens, knocking back his, or his mates speculative share price. The speculators of the Marcellus shale in america have been found to have over estimated the available resource by 5 times!
“The earthquake concerns require further explanation”? - The term Fracturing explains itself? Don’t do it on our fault line(most of our country)
Straterra are accountable for what they say, therefore you wont hear them on fugitive emissions,  transport emissions, Expired well closures the list grows etc… Mr Napp represents counter information for new zealanders - The real source of truth on this comes from America’s 10-12 year headstart, NON DISCLOSURE CONTRACTS & OUT OF COURT SETTLEMENTS ONLY GET CORPORATES SO FAR!

By Todd Ross on Tue, December 06, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Nothing is 100% safe. But when it gets extremely cold or horribly hot,I will take the fracked gas and oil over windmills.
These companies are and will help out the economy of New Zealand immensely.
The fines for spills and misteps will make them extremely careful.
I do not understand how thinking people can support crazed organizations,like greenpeace.
Nothing more than a bunch of floating leftovers from the 60’s who have to have something to protest or get a real job.These people ride around in huge diesel burning yahts and tell you about global warming caused by carbon.
I would like to drug test that particular group,so the people who support them can see their real mission.

By mka on Mon, December 05, 2011 at 7:19 am

I would like to know why the government signed a deal 4 hours after the 22nd Febuary earthquake to Frack around Canterbury. Does this not seem like a particularly bad time to be signing fracking rights to overseas companys(Anaradarko) when there are concerns about the effect on earthquakes.
Anadarko were out round Banks peninsula water on the 23rd of Feb. completing their seismic acquisition How do we know this did not cause the escalation in the natural seismic events we were going through
Why would the government choose this time to slip a deal through. Could it really be because we had other things to think about at the time and wouldn’t notice. Are they really that ruthless?

By ros on Sun, December 04, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Thank you for writing a reasonably balanced piece on fracking. The earthquake concerns require further explanation.

What is meant by triggering bigger earthquakes? What is meant by small? Are we talking about the kind of vibration that will set off a seismic detector, as many activities can do, e.g. pile driving foundations for a skyscraper or a bridge? Or are we talking about unleashing the gigantic forces of nature?

One reason that residents are concerned is because of the misinformation appearing in the media. Taranaki Regional Council have shown that fracking in New Zealand can be done with little risk. the report was peer-reviewed by GNS Science, a reputable research institution in New Zealand. That should settle the debate.

If I am a “vocal supporter”, it is because we in industry have had a gutsful of the ill-informed commentary appearing everywhere.

Furthermore, we are accountable for what we say. Unlike others, we cannot say any old thing, if we wish to remain valued and trusted stakeholders in government policy processes in this country.

By Bernie Napp on Thu, December 01, 2011 at 4:02 pm

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