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NZ to investigate fracking dangers

28th March 2012

An official inquiry has been launched into the effect of using high pressure water and chemicals to release so-called “tight” oil and gas in shale formations.

Will New Zealand academics deem fracking a danger to the environment?

New Zealand officials will be conducting an inquiry into the environmental and health implications of hydraulic fracking, it was announced on 28 March.

Preliminary work indicated there is a “need to examine the issue more closely”, said New Zealand parliamentary environment commissioner, Dr Jan Wright, in a statement.

"The work that has been done by my office thus far shows a substantive case for an official investigation under the Environment Act," said Wright.

An investigation will be launched and a report will be tabled to parliament before the end of the year. The report should offer parliament with recommendations on further action having concluded whether, or to what extent, the practise can contaminate underground water sources and cause other environmental harm.

Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley welcomed the inquiry, saying it would lead to a "clear understanding of what's fact and what's fiction."

Fracking is reportedly already used in the North Island regions of Taranaki and the Waikato and applications have been made to start fracking in the South Island region of Canterbury.

"Until [Wright] can assure the public that it is safe, government should implement a nationwide fracking moratorium," said opposition Green Party energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes.

"Given numerous overseas studies, which have linked fracking to drinking water contamination, human health problems and earthquakes, New Zealanders are rightly worried about the safety of fracking in New Zealand," said Hughes.

Energy spokesperson for the main opposition Labour Party, Moana Mackey, said an increasing number of countries and states were already reviewing or banning the practice.

"Local concerns about the safety of fracking and the potential impact on drinking water supplies means such an inquiry is long overdue," said Mackey.

The petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand (PEPANZ) also welcomed the inquiry, saying it would give the oil and gas industry "a chance to put the facts on the table."

Chief executive officer David Robinson said the industry had "nothing to hide and everything to gain from participating in an open and honest dialogue with all interested parties."

"We are confident that this inquiry will dispel misinformation about the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing and will show what great lengths the industry goes to ensure the practice is done safely with proper precaution taken," said Robinson in a statement.

The enquiry comes as the government reviews the Crown Minerals Act, and the exploration tender process. The government is seeking views from the public on how the country can improve legislation governing oil, gas and mineral permitting.

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