Fracking is the hydraulic fracturing of geological formations to release hydrocarbons. It has some very serious potential environmental impacts, of which groundwater contamination is the lead problem. This is why there is a moratorium on fracking in many places around the world at the moment, including NSW, Quebec, parts of USA, and France.
Groundwater contamination occurs because the hydraulic fluid used to fracture the rock contains toxic chemicals that can find their way into aquifers; and also because the mobilisation of hydrocarbons can result in the mobilisation of various toxic naturally occuring chemicals that would otherwise be held in place.
Generally the target rock is deeper than the aquifers and hence the miners drill down through the aquifer to get to the rocks that are the fracking target.
The fracking chemicals can get into groundwater if the casing around the fracking bore leaks, or if the fracking fluid comes back up the outside of the casing, or if the fracking itself results in a connection between the target rock and the aquifer.
In NZ the lead place for fracking is Taranaki, and key environmental regulator is the Taranaki Regional Council. You would think the regional council would be concerned about the possiblity of contamination of their aquifers.
My colleague Catherine Delahunty wrote to the TRC asking some questions on this issue and the answer was startling:
Catherine Delahunty: “Has there ever been any leakage of fracking fluid or other drilling fluid into Taranaki aquifers?”
BG Chamberlain, CEO of TRC: “Injection wells are cased through the aquifers so there can be no discharges of fracking fluids to them.” [emphasis added]
So the so-called environmental regulator decided a priori that there cannot be contamination of aquifers by fracking fluid.
No wonder TRC didn’t require the drilling companies to apply for resource consent for fracking – they had already decided that there is no risk. Under public pressure TRC are now saying that they will require resource consent but given their attitude that there “can be no discharges” of fracking fluid to aquifers I can’t imagine these consents will be arduous.
We need a morotorium on fracking until we understand the risks and we need a national environmental regulator to set rules and enforce them as the TRC are manifestly not up to it.
A full copy of the Taranaki Regional Council’s OIA response on fracking is now online.