Nick Smith on fracking

In an opinion piece which featured in several newspapers, MP Dr Nick Smith gives his views on the fracking debate. The article was published in the Southland Times, the New Zealand Herald, Marlborough Express, Gisborne Herald and Nelson Mail.

An excerpt (read in full here):

The hysteria sweeping the country over fracking 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 Greens’ “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.

The technique is used where the geology has low permeability. This means the rock, sand, silt or clay is so tight that it is difficult for fluids to flow. Fracking involves water being pumped at high pressure down a well to open up gaps so it is easier to extract the water, steam, gas or oil.

The efficiency of fracking is improved by adding small amounts of proppants and lubricants to the water. The proppants are little beads that get into the gaps during the high-pressure fracking and keep the gaps open when the pressure is released. The lubricants help get the proppants where they need to be.

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