An interim report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, into hydraulic fracturing has concluded that the environmental risks associated with the practice can be managed effectively, provided that "operational best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation". However, Dr Wright states that she "cannot be confident that the operational best practices are actually being implemented and enforced in this country".  Dr Wright will now conduct an investigation into how well the environmental risks associated with fracking are actually regulated and monitored.

Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", involves the injection of fluid containing sand and chemicals at high pressure to fracture rock, in order to access oil or gas deposits.  The practice has evoked opposition from a number of environmental and community groups concerned that fracking may cause groundwater contamination, gas leakage, and the triggering of earthquakes.

Currently, fracking is used in the oil and gas industry in the Taranaki region, but oil and gas exploration permits have been issued for a range of other areas, meaning the practice could become more widespread around the country.

The Commissioner's report found that the key aspects of fracking requiring management in order to protect the environment are:

  • The location of drilling
  • Design and construction of wells
  • Avoidance of spills and leaks on the surface
  • Disposal of waste.

Dr Wright stated that poor management of any of these aspects could lead to groundwater contamination.

In relation to government oversight and regulation, the key findings of the report are that:

  • "The system is complex and fragmented, making oversight extremely important"
  • "Regulation may not be fit-for-purpose – companies are perhaps being trusted rather too much to all do 'the right thing"
  • "A 'social licence' for fracking has yet to be earned; for example, communication and engagement with local communities has been mixed."

Dr Wright does not believe that a moratorium on fracking is justified at present.

The report can be found here.