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Fracking to continue, but rules could be tightened

Published: 8:12AM Tuesday November 27, 2012 Source: ONE News

A controversial technique for finding oil and gas has been given the green light from New Zealand's environmental watchdog.
Critics say fracking causes earthquakes and can pollute water.

But while the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, sees no cause for alarm over fracking, her findings may bring tighter restrictions.

"I'm not calling for a moratorium at this stage. Recommending a moratorium is a big thing to do and I wouldn't do it lightly," Wright said, releasing her interim report on the environmental impacts of fracking in New Zealand.

The mining industry sees Wright's report as a big win.

"We welcome the report. There is no basis for a moratorium. It's being done safely in Taranaki for more than 20 years," said David Robinson, CEO of the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association.

But while the industry will be buoyed, it is a not a total victory. Wright has concerns about standards in New Zealand and is hinting she will urge the Government to consider new regulations in her final report next year.

Prime Minister John Key says the Government will support this.

"So once we've had an opportunity to look at that, we'll take that on board and have a good look at it. But, simple bottom line is I think she's saying 'go ahead and do it'," Key said.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves drilling into rock and injecting fluid at extremely high pressure to force the release of gas.

It has been carried out in Taranaki for 23 years and with accessible oil and gas supplies dwindling, its use by the mining industry is growing fast.

But so are concerns about safety. A US film, Gasland, claims fracking can lead to water contamination.

"I've not seen anything yet that is of high and urgent concern. But that is not to say everything has been done perfectly so far," Wright said.

When it comes to fears that fracking can cause earthquakes, Wright is also hedging her bets. 

"I cannot hand on heart say that would never happen. But we do have thousands of earthquakes a year in New Zealand, different sizes, so maybe it's not a big thing," she said.

Labour also backs fracking with tighter controls.

"It strikes a balance between that and not calling for a moratorium, which is good," said David Shearer, Labour leader, referring to the Parliamentary Commissioner's report.

That stance is at odds with Labour's future coalition partner, the Greens.

"With so many questions, we think the Government should act responsibly and put a moratorium on new wells," said Gareth Hughes, Green Party energy spokesperson.

Wright says if any new alarming reports on fracking come to hand she will reconsider her decision.