Green Party MP Gareth Hughes on fracking
Carterton Event Centre, Carterton, New Zealand
Wednesday 23 May 2012
On Wednesday 23 May 2012 Gareth Hughes, Green Party Aotearoa spokesperson for oceans, ocean mining, energy, ICT, Libraries and Archives, spoke before a screening of the film Gasland, a documentary on fracking in the United States, at Carterton Events Centre. As his address indicates, up to now only 30 or 40 fracking wells have been drilled since 1991. However, consents for fracking have now been given on many millions of hectares around New Zealand, including the Wairarapa. As Gareth points out, there is every reason to be concerned.
It’s wonderful to be here tonight in the Wairarapa to show this amazing film. I’ve got an embarrassing secret to share, which is that despite campaigning against fracking for the past three months, I still haven’t seen this film, so am looking forward to it tonight.
A year ago, who had heard of fracking? I hadn’t, and I think it is this film in particular which has really put it on the world agenda.
What we have seen in America, and what this film shows, is that there are a huge number of concerns with fracking, something we have to wake up to in New Zealand.
Traditionally, when you get a bubble of oil or gas, you stick a straw down, and suck it up. But now we’ve used up all those easy and cheap to access sources of oil. Now we are going after those isolated pockets of oil and gas.
What fracking does is drill a well, mostly horizontally. Then at high pressure 11 million litres of water and a huge quantity of chemicals and sand are forced at the rock [lying above the oil or gas] cracking it so you can access those isolated bubbles of oil and gas.
Around the world there are a huge number of questions being asked - where do you get these huge amounts of water, what does the process of fracking do to the soil, what are the chemicals - because in New Zealand the full list of chemicals being used by the fracking industry is still not public. Many of them are cacogenic, very dangerous to the environment.
What happens when they leak out of poorly constructed well casings or - what we have seen overseas - the fracking of the rock actually helps toxic fluid reach the groundwater. What do you do with the water, now soaked with hydrocarbons as well chemicals, once you have used it? You’ve got a waste disposal problem.
Fracking has been linked with earthquakes which I thought was a bit iffy when I first looked into it, but in the last month we’ve had the United States Geological Survey, the world’s most prestigious geological body, and the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change come out and say there is a definitive causative link between the practice of hydraulic fraction and human induced earthquakes.
Now I don’t want to give you the wrong impression because we are not talking about mega earthquakes. What we are talking about are ones of around 3.6 on the Richter scale at the largest. But it is a concern because the UK Department of Energy says this will lead to further earthquakes which in New Zealand we should be concerned about.
But also, most worryingly, these localised, human induced earthquakes can break the well casing, which means you get these toxic fluids entering the environment and ground water. You also have climate change concerns, safety concerns, a huge number of concerns.
I am really worried because the New Zealand government has taken a very aggressive approach to any challenge to fracking. We have only done it since 1991, mostly in Taranaki. We’ve also done a tiny bit in Southland and Waikato, but in Taranaki since 1991 we’ve fracked about 30 or 40 wells. So it is a tiny amount compared to the rest of the world. What we have seen in Taranaki is consents being breached. We’ve seen ground water contamination. We’ve seen dangerous chemicals exceeding Ministry for the Environment guidelines enter the environment from just those 30 or 40 fracking wells. So it is something to be concerned about.
Energy Minister Phil Hector has
said there is no problems in
Taranaki but I have tabled a number of reports in Parliament to show we have seen water contamination. He then goes on to say it is only extremists and greenies who are concerned about fracking, but the governments of New South Wales, Quebec and Vermont, South Africa and France (have banned or put a moratorium on fracking). Last time I looked, they weren’t being run by greenie extremist governments. This is a mainstream concern around the world. Many farmers are deeply concerned and actively campaigning against it.
The third argument he then trots out is that this will bring economic prosperity to New Zealand and floats billions of dollars figures. What we know from the economic research is that there are going to be hardly any jobs, hardly any royalties, hardly any taxes, and the profits are going to go offshore. We have the fourth lowest take rate of producing nation in the world. We’ve got the world’s fourth lowest royalties plus tax regime of any producing nation in the world.
Oil companies successfully lobbied two years ago to get oil workers put on the skills shortage immigration list so they can bring in foreign workers a lot easier, and we know the foreign companies [doing the drilling] will take the profits offshore.
So I think, given the oil and the gas isn’t going anywhere, given there are so many unanswered questions, so many legitimate concerns, what’s the rush. Let’s wait, put a moratorium on it. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is currently investigating fracking. This is the appropriate independent body to have a look at all the facts. Lets wait for the research to come into effect, because what we do know is that we are on the cusp of a massive expansion in fracking in New Zealand.
In the last year we have seen a 170 percent increase in the rate of new fracking wells in New Zealand, compared to the last 18 years - a 170 percent increase. There are four million hectares of New Zealand, including the Wairarapa where fracking is permitted to occur. And another three million hectares currently on the Energy Minister’s desk to sign off. So we are on the cusp of a massive expansion. We’ve got to stop it now, that’s the responsible, prudent step.
In the Wairarapa, Discovery GeoServices Corporation from Texas is interested in fracking in the region. TAG Apache Oil of Canada has consents about to be launched in the Hawkes Bay, East Coast and Taranaki.
And lastly, when it comes to the Wairarapa, we have a company called New Zealand Energy Corp which has been drilling four wells off Castlepoint. They haven’t been fracking to date. They have been doing stratigraphical wells, looking at what is underground. If they want to continue, and their permit needs to be renewed in September, they can start fracking.
So it is a huge local issue, something we should be concerned about. Wellington Regional Council is going to be discussing this on 30 of June. Will they follow the lead of six councils around New Zealand who so far have called for a moratorium, called for an investigation, or have declared themselves frack-free like Christchurch City?
It is really important they have taken this step but they are symbolic steps. None of these councils are regional councils who are the ones who have to deal with these consents. So that is why I think it is really important Greater Wellington Regional Council delays considering any fracking consents they have before them, given there are so many questions, given there are so many concerns, and the oil and gas isn’t going anywhere.
We should have a cup of tea, take a breather, wait till the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment reports back. That’s something I’ve been working really hard on. I’ve been asking the Energy Minister lots of questions. We’ve got a petition with thousands and thousands of signatures. There is real momentum building. The six councils calling for moratorium or going frack-free is really inspiring. Around the world countries and states and regions have put bans or moratoriums in place. So we can do it in New Zealand and I think this film will show us why we have to do it.
So thanks so much for coming out tonight. I hope you enjoy the film, kia ora.
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