I AGREE with Nick Smith that it’s time to inject some science and common sense into the debate on fracking and frackfreetairawhiti.org.nz is a good resource for anyone who is interested in this science.
Some of us first asked the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment to undertake an independent inquiry and then we encouraged Gisborne District Council to commission independent research on the impacts, both positive and negative, of petroleum exploration and production in rural and seismically-active regions like the East Coast.
Central government is commissioning more research on these issues and that should be welcomed by everyone, but it’s disappointing this is happening after exploration permits across the country have already been sold off and local authorities are trying to manage oil company expectations and public concerns about the industry.
Dr Smith says “small amounts of proppants and lubricants” are used in the process. A report on fracking to the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce last year said that over the course of the life of a well around 440,000 litres of chemicals are used. So it probably depends on how one defines “small”.
The industry and politicians keep saying the chemicals are no worse than household cleaners and ice cream ingredients but the potential for 440,000 litres of “dishwashing liquid” (per well pad) entering our environment is enough reason for a ban on fracking. A report tabled in the US House of Representatives last year said 29 of the chemicals injected into wells were known or suspected human carcinogens.
Dr Smith is correct, the science suggests that fracking is likely to cause only small earthquakes. He omits to acknowledge that the science also suggests larger earthquakes have been caused by the reinjection process of fracking waste fluids. That dishwashing liquid sure gets around.
The Sidoarjo mud volcano in East Java has been erupting since 2006. In June 2008, a report released by British, American, Indonesian and Australian scientists concluded that the volcano was not a natural disaster but the result of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas. This month geologists reaffirmed in court the eruption was caused by drilling operations, not a distant earthquake as claimed by the mining company. It is expected that the flow will continue for the next 25 to 30 years after peaking at 180,000 cubic metres of mud per day.
Of course, very few frack jobs result in an unstoppable mud volcano but let’s carefully look at our local geology, seismology and existing land use, weigh up the local benefits and risks with all the facts in front of us, and then make a decision.
Let us also consider the science on climate change that clearly shows we are not making the changes required fast enough and cheap fossil fuels are major contributors to the problem. There is competing evidence on gas as a better alternative to coal as a transition fuel, with some studies showing gas will be worse in the long run.
Like Dr Smith, I am passionate about New Zealand’s natural environment. We want to bequeath our children a nation with a great lifestyle, a strong economy and a clean environment — but without the latter, the first two don’t exist. All this will only be possible if we take a rational, science-based approach to our natural resources and risk management.
For further reading, I would go for The Lorax by Dr Seuss over Chicken Licken, any day.