By Pattrick Smellie
Nov 7 (BusinessDesk) - Todd Energy has been involved in hydraulic fracturing on 26 occasions in New Zealand and says the controversial process, known colloquially as fracking, is safe when used at great depth and away from freshwater aquifers.
Normally publicity-shy, Todd has released a 177 page submission on fracking, prepared for the investigation into the practice by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, whose report is due by the end of the year and could decide the fate of fracking in New Zealand.
The Todd submission covers the variety of fracking techniques used around the world, and seeks to distinguish between the shallow, water-hungry methods used in the United States to source oil and gas from shale fields, and the fracking most commonly conducted in New Zealand to date.
"Unlike the large scale hydraulic fracturing processes used in shale gas extraction, Todd's operations are relatively small scale, and use much less water and equipment over a shorter period of time."
The report also downplays the presence of toxic chemicals in fracking, saying the technology is continuing to develop non-toxic alternatives, that most of the chemicals used are "environmentally benign" and that they comprise only three to five percent of the fluids used in fracking. Some 97 percent to 99 percent of the fluid used is water.
The risks of causing serious earthquakes by fracking is also dismissed as very low, based on scientific evidence and the fact that oil and gas explorers seek to avoid seismic faults, partly because they could lose hydrocarbons they are targeting into such faults.
It also says the widely viewed documentary "Gasland" criticising fracking has been "comprehensively discredited" and suggests some anti-fracking activity is motivated by oil and gas producers using traditional methods, citing Russian producer Gazprom and pointing to the funding of a Hollywood anti-fracking film by interests in the United Arab Emirates.
The company said since 1997 it had undertaken 12 fracking operations in its own right, mainly at the Mangahewa field where it had greatly improved oil and gas flows, becoming "essential technology for the development of the low quality, tight reservoirs" of the onshore Taranaki field.
As a partner in the Kapuni field, operated by Shell Todd Oil Services, Todd had also been involved with a further 14 fracking "treatments". Fracking is used to open up fissures underground to allow tightly trapped oil and gas to flow.
In New Zealand, fracking was generally undertaken at depths between 3,000 and 4,000 metres, far from groundwater aquifers. Measures to prevent well casings from leaking well contents into aquifers were a standard element in all oil and gas wells, not just fracking.
The report says that while there was reluctance in the past to disclose the make-up of commercially sensitive fracking fluids, that attitude had changed and the industry had recognised the need to for "much greater transparency around its operations."
Todd contracts international experts to undertake fracking operations.
"The technology has been used safely and successfully in New Zealand for over 20 years and has become the standard treatment for maximising the efficiency of deep gas wells in Taranaki," the Todd report says. "Up until mid-2011, a total of 65 treatments had been undertaken in 39 onshore Taranaki wells."
There were no recorded instances of groundwater contamination.
Fracking had been used more than one million times in the United States alone, and was "a mature, highly developed technology", whose earliest versions emerged in the 19th century, but had become commercially applicable from 1949 onwards.