The oil industry giants were recently welcomed with open arms to the petroleum summit in Auckland by the Minster of Energy and Resources (and ironically associate Minister of Climate Change issues), Simon Bridges. We wish to touch on some of the issues around fracking and hope to give you and insight into a New Zealand industry which is rarely discussed in the mainstream media. Let’s look into the process of fracking and the consequences that come with it.

Fracking or hydraulic fracturing is a process where fluid is forced underground to cause splits in the rocks to allow natural gas to be released from where it is trapped. [1] Hydraulic fracturing is highly controversial, proponents advocating economic benefits of readily accessible hydrocarbons, and opponents concerned for the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing including contamination of ground water, depletion of fresh water, degradation of the air quality, the triggering of earthquakes, noise pollution, surface pollution, and the consequential risks to health and the environment. This process is restricted in some countries and banned in others. [2]

Some of the biggest problems centre around the fact that highly toxic chemicals are required to be used in the process. Many of these chemical cocktails are kept secret due to proprietary ownership of particular blends. [3] The drilling operation uses concrete to contain the chemicals as far as they can but often poor concreting leads to leaks. The chemicals can easily pass into any underground water supplies through the fissures in the rock which then contaminates the supply as well as natural contaminants from deep underground, including total dissolved solids (e.g., salts, barium, strontium), organic pollutants (e.g., benzene, toluene) and normally occurring radioactive material (NORM) such as Radium 226.

Now for a quote from Halliburton country manager for Australia to the NZ Summit: “More than a million wells have been fracked in the United States over 60 years and roughly 2.5 million globally, with no confirmed cases of contamination of water aquifers”. [4] Far from never having any confirmed cases of water contamination, there are countless cases where water quality has dramatically dropped after drilling has started in an area.

“It was detective work by the Scranton Times-Tribune that found—buried deep in the Department of Environmental Protection’s own records—161 cases of water contamination from fracking in Pennsylvania. It was an individual engineering professor, slogging through industry statistics, who discovered just how leaky cement well casings really are: operator records show that the well casings of 6 to 7 percent of new gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania fail outright or suffer from structural problems that could result in groundwater contamination. [5]

A 2009 ProPublica investigation found that contamination was far more prevalent than indicated in the report, citing more than 1,000 cases tied to drilling and fracking that had been documented by courts and state and local governments. [6]Unfortunately most landowners don’t test water wells before the drillers move in as it is an expensive exercise and they have been conned into believing it is very safe. When there are changes to the smell or taste of the water, and test results show high levels of pollutants in the water, the industry claims the water may have always been like that. When there are complaints about poisoning and sickness resulting from fracking, the big oil giants have the resources to shut families up in court. [7] If the families won’t settle in court, the big oil corporations will usually make a very large offer, which also comes with the condition of swearing to a non-disclosure statement. [8] These gag orders even apply to patients not talking to doctors even if it means helping find treatment solutions, all so the information doesn’t get out to the public. [9]

Further proof of contamination shows when animals drink contaminated fracking water and become sick, have reproductive issues or either die from the exposure.[10] Vets were surprised by “what was happening to companion animals and livestock in areas near existing industrial oil and gas operations. We heard stories we found hard to believe: healthy cattle dying within one hour after exposure to hydraulic fracturing fluid; cows failing to reproduce and herds with high rates of stillborn and stunted calves after exposure to drilling wastewater; dogs failing to reproduce after drinking contaminated well water; cats, dogs, and horses developing unexplained rashes and having difficulty breathing after living in intensively drilled areas”. [11]

Another major issue is air quality, or the lack of around these sites. Pungent smells are often associated with these operations, mainly from the gases released from the operation. Commonly called “sour gas” which is a euphemism for a gas laced with highly toxic hydrogen sulphide, which may be released during the actual drilling of the well, as fugitive emissions from equipment, during incomplete combustion of flared gas, or when gas is vented. The other main problem with the chemicals is what to do with the toxic waste products. There are often large waste dams created to store this product.  These dams need to be well sealed to prevent leakage into the ground soil but these have also been known to fail. Then you have to dispose of all the other waste product that is produced. What should we do with it all? Unfortunately in New Zealand, some of this is being spread on healthy farm land, making it toxic which then cannot be farmed on. [12]

So with this in mind, let’s look at how our Government is approaching these issues. Simon Bridges states “Among the priorities for the Government this term will be reform of the Resource Management Act”.[13] For what purpose we ask? To make it easier to use up our water supplies and dump the waste perhaps? And this gem “We introduced provisions to the Crown Minerals Act to ensure the industry can operate without disruption from unlawful protest”. And finally “We’ve raised the profile of New Zealand, but at the same time emphasised that we want to attract responsible operators”. So let’s look at one of these “responsible operators” that were at the conference, Halliburton.

This company has been made famous for its contributions during the Iraq war, but looking at its record in oil drilling, a couple of major incidents stand out. Firstly was the Montara oil spill off the coast of Australia which was one of Australia’s worst oil spills. [14] Halliburton was the company involved in cementing the well, and not surprisingly was also the company involved in one of the worst oil spills in the world in 2010 with the Deep Water Horizon spill off the Gulf of Mexico where again they were involved in cementing the well. Added to that is the underhanded tactics employed by the company to cover up their errors. [15] [16] [17] [18]

If this is Simon Bridge’s idea of a responsible operator, then we hate to think what the cowboys are like. What concerns us most is the effect the TPPA will have on the industry and New Zealand’s ability to regulate these giants. We highly recommend you read “The Real Cost of Fracking” by Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald for a greater understanding of what New Zealand is up against.

 

References:

[1] http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_fracturing

[2] http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_fracturing_by_country

[3] http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/rdsgeisch50911.pdf

[4] http://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/10569078/Oil-gas-sector-told-to-improve-communication

[5] Excerpt From: Michelle Bamberger,Robert Oswald. “The Real Cost of Fracking.” Page 7

[6] http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Fracking_and_water_pollution

[7] http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2013/03/21/drilling-companies-agree-to-settle-fracking-contamination-case-for-750000/

[8] http://ae3b703522cf9ac6c40a-32964bea949fe02d45161cf7095bfea9.r89.cf2.rackcdn.com/2013/211/626/pg-settlement-hearing-transcript.pdf

[9] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-06/drillers-silence-fracking-claims-with-sealed-settlements.html

[10] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/andrew-wasley/fracking-safety-farming_b_4743322.html

[11] Excerpt From: Michelle Bamberger,Robert Oswald. “The Real Cost of Fracking.” Page 10

[12] http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/rural/138025/fonterra-to-stop-taking-milk-from-farms-with-oil-and-gas-waste

[13] http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1410/S00003/bridges-speech-to-2014-new-zealand-petroleum-summit.htm

[14]  http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montara_oil_spill

[15] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/03/business/energy-environment/halliburton-to-pay-1-1-billion-to-settle-damages-in-gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill.html

[16] http://rt.com/usa/halliburton-guilty-destroying-evidence-spill-605/

[17] http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=a5SIJHgE3rXA

[18] http://www.post-gazette.com/business/2014/02/18/State-fines-Hallibutron-1-8-million-for/stories/201402180151

 

 

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Wake Up NZ is a team of dedicated truth-seekers from all over New Zealand. We are committed to disseminating information that the mainstream media fails to bring to you.

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