by Gareth Hughes
Last night I attended a public meeting in Stratford, Taranaki to discuss the local hydraulic fracturing or fracking occurring in the region.
The Government likes to portray those calling for a moratorium on the controversial practice as the ‘extreme green lobby’ but what I saw at the meeting was passionate calls of concern from farmers and everyday Kiwis.
Fracking has occurred in the region for a couple of decades now and locals are concerned and getting active and organised on the issue. It’s not surprising given this is the region that faced the Ivan Watkins Dow toxic catastrophe. I believe places like Taranaki and the East Coast are the front lines of the Governments “drill it, mine it” approach for New Zealand.
Meeting organiser Sarah Roberts spoke on her experiences trying to get information and her battles with councils over the notification of fracking wells on what’s essentially her back door step. Her partner spoke on how Stratford markets itself as the heart of Taranaki, but how there is a cancer at that heart which is spreading.
A theme of discussion from the floor of the meeting was disillusionment with the local Councils who haven’t been responding to inquiries and not publicly notifying consents even for next door landowners. There is concern that the council delegates decisions to its Director of Resource Management who worked in the oil industry and is playing a political game with tactical releases of reports, such as the Ngare report, the day before this public meeting.
There were some interesting anecdotes such as a local lady who spoke about how one day her well bore erupted with gushing water which she suspects is a nearby fracking well. She still can’t get the dates of frack jobs from the council.
One farmer said in the twenty years he’s been living near a well, he’s seen five oil companies come and go. The community is also concerned about liability. Who pays for the clean-up if there is contamination? What if there is a leak or contamination after the oil or gas company has packed up and left? I’ll be looking into these questions closely in the coming weeks.
I spoke on encouraging international moratoriums in France, South Africa and Bulgaria and states in Australia, Canada and the US, council moratorium votes in Selwyn, Christchurch and Kaikōura and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the environments who is being scoping work on an investigation.
I believe we can see a moratorium on fracking and the way to do it is using similar tactics as we saw in the successful nuclear free NZ campaign. We need local action to achieve a national result. It’s these directly affected residents who are on the frontlines who will achieve a moratorium in NZ.
I spoke about my questions to Energy Minister Phil Heatley yesterday in Parliament and disturbing facts from Kapuni and Cheal A and B wells. I asked the Minister yesterday to front up and admit what exactly would justify a moratorium on fracking, when we have so much evidence to prove its health and environmental dangers. You can see my question to the Minister in question time yesterday here.
The community passed a unanimous motion to call on the Taranaki Councils to place an immediate moratorium on fracking, and to call for an independent inquiry into the process and what is occurring in Taranaki. A second motion supported the Hawkes Bay regional Council’s call for an urgent investigation into fracking by the PCE. The community was clear all fracking wells should be publicly notified.
All in all, I think it’s an insult for the Minister to accuse all those concerned about fracking of being part of an ‘extreme green lobby’. What I saw last night was a community who fears for their health and the health of their kids. Contrary to the Minister’s claims, these concerned communities are not just worried about what could happen; they are worried about what is happening already, both in their own communities and to other communities feeling the effects of fracking. It’s time the Minister started listening to these people, not just the oil and gas lobbyists.