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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why the frack?

Fracking is just one aspect of a short-sighted energy strategy that sees corporations benefit from the exploitation of New Zealand’s resources while public interest becomes a secondary consideration. 
Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’ as it is more commonly known, is a controversial method of gas and oil extraction. Due to its high-risk nature and alleged environmental repercussions it has come to be a point of contention and an issue of critical debate both in New Zealand and overseas.

Fracking involves a high-pressure process where a concoction comprising water, chemicals and sand is forced into the ground, resulting in the release of gas and oil that could not otherwise be reached. Essentially, the solid rock formations housing gas and oil are cracked open beneath the surface of the earth, allowing these elusive deposits to be collected and piped to groundlevel. Large and easily accessible reserves of hydrocarbon are now relatively hard to come by, and fracking is being turned to as an answer.

Fracking is occurring currently in the Taranaki region, and until recently, without resource consent. However, an inquiry by the Taranaki Regional Council into the potential implications of fracking concluded that the process could result in contaminants reaching groundwater aquifiers even with precautions being taken and the method being executed without fault. Those in opposition to this uncertain form of extraction point to instances where fracking has been responsible for poisoning farmland and sources of drinking water, resulting in the death of animals and chronic health problems for residents in communities where it has been permitted overseas. Rural residents of Taranaki have definite reason for concern; the community is heavily dependent upon healthy dairy stocks, and farmers living nearby fracked sites have in the past complained of issues with their water.

With a government determined to bolster New Zealand’s economy at any cost, fracking has been largely advocated as a safe and sustainable measure. Yet these assertions that fracking poses no potential harm to communities are largely unjustified. In the United States alone fracking has been the cause of flammable tap water, where gas and chemicals have met with water supplies, as well as various explosions, toxic air pollution, the alleged mass deaths of birds and fish and increases in small-scale earthquakes. Seven of the ten countries that previously allowed fracking have now banned it either regionally or at a national level.

Inevitably, those who have a vested interest in the extraction will play down the risks that are of concern to the public and try to discredit those who remain in opposition to it. Yet at a grassroots level, people are not convinced. The anti-fracking movement has gathered considerable support both in New Zealand as well as overseas. In recent months protesters have flocked the streets of Auckland and Wellington and to the steps of parliament to demand a moratorium on fracking. Hundreds of people have gathered in small towns across the country to put a voice to the issue. Iwi and hapu including the people of Parihaka Pa oppose the fracking. The movement has received endorsement from various environmental organisations including Forest and Bird and been compared to the anti nuclear movement of the 1980s. Christchurch has been the first place in the country to impose a moratorium, yet despite this, fracking is being increased within New Zealand as a whole. Currently, the National government plans to extend fracking to the East coast, with interest also being shown in areas of the South Island.

Even if fracking were a safe and environmentally secure measure, the issue remains that consumption continues to increase while finite resources are steadily depleted. The government is doing all it can to exploit that which is available at present as it sees gas and oil as a quick economic fix. But the environment is not merely a commodity to recklessly exploit for the sake of the economy; it should be respected and guarded for future generations. When measures such as fracking are being turned to in light of the fact that easily accessible fossil fuel deposits are becoming ever scarce, it begs the question of why clean energy alternatives are not being adopted instead. Fracking is just one aspect of a short-sighted energy strategy that sees corporations benefit from the exploitation of New Zealand’s resources while public interest becomes a secondary consideration.

We cannot put a monetary value on clean drinking water and healthy people, yet this is what appears to be at stake when high-risk practices such as fracking are condoned. Unpolluted air and the guarantee of safe water supplies should be of primary importance to any government that values the health of its people. Similarly, protecting farmland and surrounding environments should not be factors that the government is able to overlook at its own discretion. The interests of people and the environment must be prioritised over those of the gas and oil industry.

It is imperative that continued pressure is put on parliament to ensure that fracking is perceived as unacceptable to the New Zealand public. To avoid future health risks and potential environmental detriment it is critical that New Zealanders do not lapse into a state of complacency over this issue. Severe regulations must be demanded with regard to fracking, and ultimately legislation that will disable the proposed expansion of it within New Zealand.

-Paloma, SA Auckland


Sources: Forest and BirdNZH, PlanetSave, Earthjustice, Listener, 3News, Stuff, Stuff 2, Stuff 3, Credo

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