A new report was released this week by the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change which confirmed that two earthquakes in the Blackpool area were caused by fracking. Along with a US Geological Survey report out last week it shows scientifically there is a link between fracking and human-induced earthquakes that should concern seismically-active New Zealand.
Although it the report has been reported by some as a ‘green light’ on fracking, it clearly states that fracking caused earthquakes which registered 2.3 and 1.5 on the Richter scale. While these earthquakes are minor, the report confirmed that they are of sufficient size to cause deformation of the structure of the fracking well which could lead to well leakage and contamination in the future. One of the authors warned that further fracking in the Blackpool area was very likely to lead to further earthquakes.
The authors suggested that fracking should be subject to greater monitoring and a traffic light system whereby an earthquake of 0.5 or greater would mean fracking would stop until remedial action was taken. These systems are not in place in New Zealand, and regional council officials have admitted they don’t have the expertise to process consents for fracking, with some expecting to receive applications within the next couple of months.
While the link between fracking and earthquakes of any size is disturbing, the link between those minor earthquakes and potential damage to wells which could cause leakage and contamination is just another reason, along with all the other serious concerns around to put in place a moratorium.
The Government shouldn’t wait for the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment to report back in order to know that we don’t have answers to many unanswered questions, appropriate regulation in place and that councillors don’t yet have the knowledge they need to make decisions about consents. The responsible step would be to enact an immediate moratorium until Kiwis can be assured fracking is safe.