Nick Smith on fracking

August 14th, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

writes in the Herald:

The hysteria sweeping the country over is like a modern-day version of the Chicken Licken story.

It is not the fear of the sky falling in but of what is happening underground that is seeing the formation of anti-fracking groups. Councils in Christchurch, Hawkes Bay, Dunedin, Hastings and Kaikoura, as well as many community boards, have jumped on the ’ “Don’t Frack with NZ” bandwagon. It is time to inject some science and common sense into the debate.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has been used in New Zealand for decades. Some 25 years ago, fracking was used in the construction of the Clyde Dam while I was undertaking my doctoral thesis in geotechnical engineering. Fracking is used to develop geothermal energy fields and to enhance oil and gas recovery in the petroleum industry. It is similar to “well stimulation” in the water industry.

As Nick points out he knows a bit more about this stuff than the average MP or city councillor jumping on the bandwagon.

The first environmental risk cited by those seeking a ban is that fracking can trigger small earthquakes. This is true for all sorts of engineering works. A magnitude 4 earthquake was triggered by the filling of Lake Pukaki in the 1960s. Lots of small earthquakes are triggered by constructing pile foundations for buildings, bridges and wharves. Hundreds of small quakes are occurring with the current geothermal energy developments north of Taupo. The few small earthquakes that could be caused by fracking need to be considered in the context of there being 18,000 naturally occurring earthquakes over magnitude 2.5 across the country a year. New Zealanders have more to fear from the vibration of their mobile phone than that caused by fracking.

Nice. That puts it into context.

The second concern is pollution of New Zealand’s waterways and aquifers. These risks are also low. The proppants used are just fillers. They pose fewer health risks than sand in the family sand pit. The lubricants have a toxicity similar to dish washing liquid. The far greater risk to water quality is the natural contaminants from underground that may be picked up by the water during drilling or fracking of a well. This is particularly true of geothermal wells in volcanic strata that often contain toxic chemicals.

The argument here is not that fracking is risk-free but rather that the risks are manageable. This is the conclusion of the Taranaki Regional Council which has overseen 20 years of petroleum industry fracking without incident. The United States Environmental Protection Authority has come to a similar conclusion. A detailed inquiry just published by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering in the United Kingdom also concludes the technology can be used safely. We do need to ensure wells are properly sealed, that drilling and fracking wastewater is responsibly managed and that ground vibrations are monitored and minimised.

As Nick says fracking is not new, and it is about risk minimisation and management. The calls by the Greens and associated politicians to ban fracking temporarily or indefinitely are the modern day anti-science witch-hunt.

There are huge geothermal energy resources in the upper North Island that can be developed only with fracking. It is contradictory for the Greens to campaign on a platform of creating 100,000 jobs from renewable energy, identify geothermal as a key opportunity and then propose a fracking ban that would kill this industry.

Just as they whine loudly about affordable housing and bitterly oppose freeing up more land to reduce land prices.

Fracking technologies are underpinning an energy revolution in the United States. Huge unconventional shale gas resources in Louisiana and Pennsylvania are coming on stream, enabling gas to replace coal-fired electricity generation. Gas emits one-third the greenhouse gas emissions of coal. This low-cost gas is also reducing American dependence on the Middle East.

So fracking can be good relatively for the environment.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, in response to demands from the Greens, is undertaking an inquiry and will report by Christmas. I fear this will unfold in a similar way to when the Greens demanded a Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, but then rubbished its conclusions.


I am passionate about New Zealand’s natural environment. I want to bequeath my children and grandchildren a nation with a great lifestyle, a strong economy and a clean environment. That will only be possible if we take a rational and science-based approach to our natural resources and risk management. Fracking may have too many letters in common with our favourite swear word, but it is the least of New Zealand’s environmental worries.

An excellent column.

19 Responses to “Nick Smith on fracking”

  1. flipper (5,299 comments) says:

    Yes, DPF. Excellent!

    Now if only young Nicky would start applying the same logic to his AGW/CC fixation – especially the bit about anti-science – we could all move on and the ETS taxes being extracted (stolen, in the name of 90 so called “scientists”) could be applied to NZ’s deficit reduction rather than corporate transfer payments.

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  2. Pongo (512 comments) says:

    Perhaps Nick and his mates could just ignore the shrill doomsday rubbish from the greens and Greenpeace and just get on with stuff, it’s a bit like the convention centre and alcohol reform. Maybe it’s the circle of people I move in, building sites mainly, but there is some exasperation that we don’t seem to be able to do anything anymore that might upset some treehugger or hand wringer.

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  3. wreck1080 (5,017 comments) says:

    Nick has been overly simplistic leaving him open to accusations of being deliberately misleading.

    My understanding is that a new type of fracking (horizontal fracking) is at issue.

    Not the older ‘vertical’ fracking , to which Nick Smith may be referring to.

    So, is Nick talking about horizontal fracking, or vertical? Or, does he choose to confuse the 2 and hope no one will notice?

    Personally, I say mine the hell out of NZ — open pit all the way. Then, we’ll have some nice lakes around the place after all is done.

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  4. Than (843 comments) says:


    The Royal Society report Smith referred to covered horizontal fracturing. And surely the principal of rational use with risk-minimisation applies equally to both verticle and horizontal fracking?

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  5. sifty (24 comments) says:

    As usual the loony Greens will only use scientific evidence when it agrees with their philosophies and rubbish it when it doesn’t. Just like they want the state to pay for homeopathic treatments when time after time they have been proven beyond doubt to be nothing more than snake oil.

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  6. barry (1,233 comments) says:

    And if the new local government regulations really did restrict local government to some simple basics we would have these idiot councils doing stupid things like making themsleves ‘anti-fracking’. If they carry on like this the next thing is theyll be trying to tell us how we should take a crap.

    Its good to see that the council up north that has got itself into trouble has been taken over by an appointed manager. This needs ot happen to more of them.

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  7. Auberon (810 comments) says:

    An absolutely brilliant column. But sadly, as I said here back in June…

    My prediction: we’ll be getting gas out of the ground using this technique on a regular basis in New Zealand … in 2050 and beyond. It’ll take that long for us to get poor enough for the alarmist greenies to have their madness fall on deaf ears with the majority.

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  8. wreck1080 (5,017 comments) says:

    ok i’m wrong 🙂 But, nick did not really make this obvious .

    get fracking then….

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  9. Redbaiter (11,656 comments) says:

    Pity then that the Nat party spokesperson Phil Heatly at the Petroleum conference in New Plymouth was so lamely submissive to environmental pressure groups and Iwi.

    And lets not forget so called Maori whose greed has stopped shale gas exploration on the east coast of the North Island. Another group wherein the Nats just want to surrender.

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  10. Redbaiter (11,656 comments) says:

    And if Nick Smith was really on the ball he would have addressed the lies of extremist Watermelon Gareth Hughes who in a complete distortion of reality is going around the country likening coal seam gas drilling to petroleum drilling.

    Hughes is an utter fraud.

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  11. David Garrett (10,985 comments) says:

    I recall when the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment issued her report on 1080…not just harmless to humans, but the best thing since sliced bread for controlling possums…the Greenies’ first reaction was open mouth disbelief, then totally dismissive…along with some mutterings that the PCE had “sold out”

    I expect exactly the same here, following a report which will surely say the technique is perfectly safe so long as wells are designed, drilled and completed properly. The Greenies’ real objective is to stop petroleum exploration and production. This is simply an excuse to further that aim.

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  12. kowtow (13,217 comments) says:

    What flipper said.

    Now National need to get going. There’s a new energy boom just around the corner,are we going to be part of it or held back by fake environmentalism?

    If National don’t then Labour might just findthe balls to rediscover it’s roots as a workers party(instead of a bunch of middle class rainbow nancies) and make us energy rich and leave the progressive Nats behind.After all they both seem be to be struggling to find a point of difference these days.

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  13. Redbaiter (11,656 comments) says:

    And why doesn’t Smith confront the Watermelons with the truth?

    That it is not the environment they are concerned about but really that they are communists who want to kill off our economy so as to introduce a new extreme left social order.

    The Watermelon’s completely false air of self righteous sanctimony regarding the “environment” needs to be exposed for the fraud and fakery and duplicity it really is.

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  14. Redbaiter (11,656 comments) says:

    And don’t forget Smith is leader of the Blue Greens and is also the promoter of the carbon tax.

    Whereas this is not a bad statement on fraccing I despair that Smith is apparently all the Nats have on this issue.

    I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could kick his sorry arse.

    He will betray us on this just as he did on the carbon tax.

    Judge politicians by what they do not what they say and on this basis Smith is a two faced charlatan.

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  15. krazykiwi (8,229 comments) says:

    flipper +1

    When Smith opens his crooked mouth wide enough one can see the forked tongue. He opposed the ETS in opposition, then flip-flopped at around the time a company with forestry interests dropped a civil case against him. Frankly I don’t trust a word of what he says. About anything.

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  16. Paulus (3,567 comments) says:

    You know bloody well that the GAA (GreenpeaceAgainstAnything) Party cannot be wrong.

    They are well educated, University qualified, middle class country folks who can never have their ideas qualified, except by themselves.

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  17. kowtow (13,217 comments) says:


    I don’t reckon they’re country folk. I suspect they’re largely urbanites. People who don’t really understand the rhythm of life in all it’s various manifestations.

    Their supporters are the cafe set who latch on to trends and who get their news and views from the BBC and the Guardian. While they may appear clever and have degrees they allow other people to do their thinking for them .

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  18. scrubone (3,791 comments) says:

    One must ask if the chemicals used might get into the groundwater (which is situated literally miles above) but the oil in the ground won’t.

    I watched a lecture on Not PC a couple of weeks ago and it was very enlightening.

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  19. UpandComer (665 comments) says:

    You have to remember the Greens think that any use of non-renewables whatsoever is wrong and bad because eventually it will run out. It doesn’t matter if it’s safe, we all have to take a huge cut in our standard of living because, well, even if it’s safe and sustainable for 200 years, well, you know, Greens.

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