This is a list of questions relating to the Apache/TAG exploration plans for the East Coast that I will try to post answers for – feel free to ask any other questions in the Comments Box below to add to the list.
The responses are my understanding at the time of writing and do not necessarily reflect GDC or anyone else’s opinion or position.
The staff report on the proposed visit is available here.
A discussion on Radio NZ Morning Report (23/1/12) about the trip is available here.
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1. Who is the GDC staff member going on the trip to Canada?
Trevor Freeman, Manager of Environmental Services and District Soil Conservator is the staff member that his manager is recommending for the trip. Trevor’s participation is yet to be confirmed, it is a recommendation to the full Council meeting on 26 January and councillors may decide he should not go or that GDC should fund it without Apache assistance.
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2. How are they and GDC going to manage the moral/ethical pressure (subconscious as well as conscious) of being beholden to the oil company that is hosting-paying for them to make such a trip?
The itinerary will be on the public record once confirmed – and is in fact still open if people have suggested contacts that the group could visit near Calgary, Fort St John and Victoria, BC. Trevor will provide a full report to Council on his return and is expected to establish contacts with regulators and other stakeholders in Canada that should be broader than just those arranged by Apache Corp. By definition subconscious pressure will be difficult to manage, but staff understand that Apache Corp. representatives will be at only a few of the meetings scheduled – probably only the meetings with their Canadian staff.
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3. Why to Canada and these parts of Canada in particular?
British Columbia seems to be the area that Apache is most active in fracking – including in 2010 the largest frack job ever completed at that time. It seems sensible to make contact with people there who have seen the impacts firsthand and establish some ongoing connections between us and them as a way to share learning, experience, policies, concerns, etc.
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4. Why is this money being accepted by GDC for just one individual to travel all that way to look at a few examples and talk to just a few people in the world when there’s masses and masses of information and research available to many and from all points of view?
GDC can and will still access as much of the reliable information available online and from various academic and independent sources as it comes to hand. This is an opportunity to see the impacts firsthand, to build networks and build the capacity of GDC staff to understand the process which our district has no previous experience with. I am working on a primer on fracking that collates the most compelling peer-reviewed evidence against the practice to share with my colleagues and the public – assistance with this project would be appreciated!
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5. What could be achieved by the money being used for a panel of widely respected district people (Council, Iwi, other community interests) to independently review all available information and report to the district on all the issues as they apply to the East Coast (and if necessary, interview people by skype, define what trips to observe directly should be made by whom about what)?
This could also be something GDC require Apache to fund as part of any new consents application. Apache has reportedly invested $100million in the project, so they should support a robust investigation process by NZ regulators and the public, and their representatives have made public comments to that effect.
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6. What is GDC’s logic and rationale for a geotechnical / soil conservation staff member going?
Most of the resource consent applications will relate to disturbance of the soil and discharge to land – there is also likely be water take and possibly discharge to air consent applications and the individual going to Canada is responsible for all these areas as Manager of Environmental Services.
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7. Who initated this oil-company funded trip?
I understand it was recently proposed by the company to staff from the three councils involved (Gisborne District Council, Hawkes Bay Regional Council and Horizons Council).
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8. What and whose purposes and intent is the trip designed to serve?
My understanding, based on the report going to Council this week, is that the trip is designed to help build the knowledge of GDC staff in relation to Apache Corp. operations in Canada and the regulatory framework employed by Canadian authorities. I guess the company hopes the visit will reassure Council staff who work on behalf of their residents and ratepayers that Apache Corp. is a socially and environmentally responsible company that is regarded with respect in the areas of Canada it operates. My support for the trip will be because it enables our staff to also have direct contact with environmentalists, First Nations representatives, politicians and regulators who may have concerns and even direct opposition to Apache Corp. activities.
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9. What alternative uses of $ oil company offering for: research / review / staff training / were debated/considered – if any?
The trip is seen as a valuable learning opportunity for staff. It is expected that the costs will be between $3-5k and these will be incurred by GDC and then reimbursed by the company. Further staff training, research and reviews will definitely be required and may be funded as part of any consent application and/or funded by Gisborne ratepayers, central government and possibly academic institutions – like Auckland University that next month is hosting a visiting researcher from Duke University that has published papers documenting the dangers of fracking.
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I’ve asked Apache/TAG Oil and GDC staff to comment on the following questions and will post responses if/when they provide them:
What environmental and public health risk assessments are being undertaken before drilling is finally scheduled, and by whom?
What insurance cover will be in effect, covering landowners and GDC, to cover loss of potable water supply due to petroleum contamination, land erosion etc.?
Is a survey of water supply catchment significance, in relation to proposed drilling sites being undertaken?
What would be the proposed method for handling drilling water flowback and drilling waste disposal, bearing in mid the hazardous chemical nature of oil shale or oil source rock detritus?
What engineering measures would be envisaged to prevent long-term corrosion and seismic shock damage to well casing which could result in petro-chemical contamination of aquifers?
What fracking chemicals are expected to be used for oil shale work: BTEX volatiles, barium, diesel oil?
What fracking pressures would you expect to be used if working into oil shale?
At Whakatutu, where do you anticipate that the high volumes of drilling water needed will be obtained from?
Will the well borers used by Tag/Apache test completed cement casing, if ‘yes’, what is the method of testing?
To what depth would bore cementation be taken, from the surface and how many steel liners would be used to below waster aquifer depth?
Would you anticipate using ponding areas for storing flowback water etc. at the drilling site?
If commercial quantities of gas or oil are found, what would be the means for transporting the gas/oil from the drilling site and to where?
Aquifer water in the vicinity of drilling sites should be pre-tested for petroleum contaminants prior to commencement of drilling and reasonably frequently after drilling.This testing should, ideally, be undertaken by an organisation unrelated commercially to the petroleum industry?
In view of the fact that drilling operations are subject to material failures, human error, faulty cement injection and seismic shock damage, what assurance can the petroleum industry give that aquifer contamination will not occur as a result of such factors?
Does Tag Oil/Apache acknowledge that deep drilling and fracking can result in earthquake shocks, as acknowledged by the USA Geological Survey after the series of shocks experienced last year in Northern Dakota, also at a Cuadrilla Ltd. Drilling site near Blackpool, in England, as acknowledged by the U.K. Geological Survey?
In view of the fact that deep drilling and fracking can cause earthquake shocks, is a survey of faultlines being undertaken across the proposed drilling area, in relation to possible earthquake shock generation? ( Ref: Deep drilling and high-pressure injection caused a series of earthquake shock in the Denver, Colorado area, between 1961 and 1966, when toxic chemicals were being disposed of underground, the disposal method then being abandoned due to the earthquakes).