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Monday, April 18, 2011

Fracking hell

NZ is not the only country incapable or unwilling to effectively regulate the offshore drilling business. This NY Times piece:

A year after BP’s Macondo well blew out, killing 11 men and spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the much-maligned federal agency responsible for policing offshore drilling has been remade, with a tough new director, an awkward new name and a sheaf of stricter safety rules. It is also trying to put some distance between itself and the industry it regulates.

But is it fixed? The simple answer is no. Even those who run the agency formerly known as the Minerals Management Service concede that it will be years before they can establish a robust regulatory regime able to minimize the risks to workers and the environment while still allowing exploration offshore.
The blowout preventers in use today remain incapable of handling a well rupture of the force of the BP blast. The containment system developed by the industry to respond to another blowout has not been tested in real-life conditions and, by the industry’s own estimate, could still allow hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil to spew before a runaway well could be capped.

The seven-member commission named by President Obama to investigate the BP accident looked at the regulatory failures that contributed to it, and its conclusions were blunt.

“M.M.S. became an agency systematically lacking the resources, technical training or experience in petroleum engineering that is absolutely critical to ensuring that offshore drilling is being conducted in a safe and responsible manner,” the panel said in its final report, issued in January. “For a regulatory agency to fall so short of its essential safety mission is inexcusable.”

The question is, if the USA is so lacking in organisation, will and skills (at a political/admin level) and so deviod of understanding of deep sea drilling (at a technical and scientific level) then what credibility does the NZ government have in opening up the deep sea to drilling? If anything goes awry we are screwed. Remember the last oil spill we had - the Jody F Millenium, off Gisborne, 2002 - the local resources were totally inadequate, we had to wait over a week for a tug... from Australia. We haven't had the experience and we don't have the things on the ground to deal with even small spills let alone the likes of a Deepwater Horizon incident.

Although this NY Times article (also from today) is concerned with drinking water contamination the same will apply to what seeps out into the ocean:

Oil and gas companies injected hundreds of millions of gallons of hazardous or carcinogenic chemicals into wells in more than 13 states from 2005 to 2009, according to an investigation by Congressional Democrats.

The chemicals were used by companies during a drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, which involves the high-pressure injection of a mixture of water, sand and chemical additives into rock formations deep underground. The process, which is being used to tap into large reserves of natural gas around the country, opens fissures in the rock to stimulate the release of oil and gas.

Hydrofracking has attracted increased scrutiny from lawmakers and environmentalists in part because of fears that the chemicals used during the process can contaminate underground sources of drinking water.
Some ingredients mixed into the hydraulic fracturing fluids were common and generally harmless, like salt and citric acid. Others were unexpected, like instant coffee and walnut hulls, the report said. Many ingredients were “extremely toxic,” including benzene, a known human carcinogen, and lead.
The E.P.A. is conducting a national study on the drinking water risks associated with hydrofracking, but assessing these risks has been made more difficult by companies’ unwillingness to publicly disclose which chemicals and in what concentrations they are used, according to internal e-mails and draft notes of the study plan.

Some companies are moving toward more disclosure, and the industry will soon start a public database of these chemicals. But the Congressional report said that reporting to this database is strictly voluntary, that disclosure will not include the chemical identity of products labeled as proprietary, and that there is no way to determine if companies are accurately reporting information for all wells.

This looks like a very cosy corporate don't-ask/don't-tell policy for the drillers. Is this the same scenario panning out for NZ?

I note the Nats want an EPA too - an agency designed to fast-track exploitation of the environment rather than regulate, monitor and protect. Is the NZ EPA destined to be just a PR smokescreen to polish the thin veneer of our clean green image? If the Greens were advocating an EPA there would be a high level of confidence that it was really about environmental protection, but given Gerry Brownlee & co. are the ones behind it there will be little expectation they will be anything other than a rubber stamp for Petrobras and the others used to working in countries where their dollars/reals do the talking and their presence is accompanied by mercenaries and government gunboats.


At 21/4/11 6:10 pm, Blogger AAMC said...



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