Business as usual for fracking industry | The Jackal

27 Nov 2012

Business as usual for fracking industry

Today, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, released her interim report Evaluating the environmental impacts of fracking in New Zealand (PDF), which was obviously released to the oil and gas industry spin doctors earlier this week.

Here's the conclusion and some interim findings, plus a few other excerpts worth highlighting:

The high-level conclusion from the work done to date in this investigation echoes, and is broadly consistent with, the reviews of fracking that have been done elsewhere in the world. That conclusion is that the environmental risks associated with fracking can be managed effectively provided, to quote the United Kingdom Royal Society, “operational best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation”. But at this stage I cannot be confident that operational best practices are actually being implemented and enforced in this country.

Firstly, operational best practice has clearly not been adhered to and this has resulted in numerous accidents and toxic chemical spills in New Zealand. For Jan Wright to say she's not confident that; 'operational best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation' is putting it incredibly lightly.

The second issue is that even if operational best practices are followed, the environmental problems inherent in fracking technologies remain. These problems outweigh the benefits fracking can impart such as job creation, security of energy supply and economic welfare, all of which have been incredibly overstated by the oil and gas industry as well as the current New Zealand government.

Some of the problems inherent in fracking technologies include a potential for irreparable water contamination that could affect drinking water supplies and other productive industries, adverse health effects of the general population through contamination, an increased likelihood of earthquakes leading to further tectonic instability in an already tectonically active country, gas leaks and continued reliance on fossil fuels contributing to climate change and the damage done to our clean and green image worth billion's to our economy each year. The cost analysis of any one of these things clearly outweighs the economic benefits from continuing to frack New Zealand.

Unfortunately the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment hasn't adequately looked into these matters to be able to make any authoritative conclusion on the matter. She does however touch on the subject of deregulation.

It may be that light-handed regulation of the oil and gas industry is working well, but this cannot be assumed. In August 2012, speaking about fracking, the Executive Director of the IEA was reported as saying that the industry’s 'just-trust-me approach is fuelling public skepticism.' Such skepticism is one of the real challenges for the industry.

Such a statement makes me wonder if Wright is even aware of the documented evidence showing numerous events of fracking failures in New Zealand. Of course regulatory measures haven't been effective in protecting the environment from industry cowboys, and it's not simply the just-trust-me approach that's fueling skepticism; it's the documented cases of fracking "accidents" and environmental pollution.

It's also the human cost to yet another dirty fossil fuel based industry that must be considered. South Taranaki District councilor, Michael Self, was one of the first people to link environmental pollution with the adverse health effects of many people and animals living in close proximity to fracking sites in the region. The high rate of cancer in Taranaki for instance is likely a result of pollution from the rampant expansion of and improperly regulated oil and gas industry.

Unfortunately there’s been no independent scientific study into this, mainly because of collusion between the industry and government officials to ensure secrecy. Clearly they only care about the money to be made and keeping things like the high levels of cancer in Taranaki under wraps is the only way they’ll ensure their ill-gotten gains continue.

Of course Jan Wright completely ignores the fact that corruption is one of the main problems, instead recommending:

Increasing public understanding of the technology should help address some concerns.

What a load of tosh! Gaining a better understanding of the problems inherent in fracking technologies has increased people's concerns. It's only through a secretive agenda and propaganda that the oil and gas industry has been able to carry out such environmentally unsafe practices. If the public knew the extent of the damage that has already occurred in New Zealand from hydraulic fracturing, it would not be tolerated... It's as simple as that.

On the whole the interim report is highly disappointing, weak, disjointed and not very thorough. Unfortunately the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment omits some very relevant and important aspects to the fracking debate and cherry-picks what information is included. Jan Wright also seems to think that a moratorium on fracking isn't required because the oil and gas industry will somehow magically clean up its act... Yeah right!

The industry has already proven through many instances of negligence that it cannot be trusted. The current local and central governmental bodies that are meant to be responsible for oversight have shown that they're not concerned in the slightest with properly enforcing consent requirements, thus proving they also cannot be trusted.

Fracking is not a safe technology and therefore all new developments should be halted. Furthermore the industry should be made to decontaminate and decommission existing sites. In my opinion, New Zealand should follow the example of many other countries around the world and ban the environmentally destructive practice immediately. The fracking pros simply don't outweigh the cons.