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Labour on the environment

Written By: - Date published: 10:59 am, November 8th, 2011 - 38 comments
Categories: Environment, labour, national - Tags: ,

I was going to write about the release of Labour’s environmental policy – and the resounding silence from National – but NRT has done a great job aleady. — r0b

Labour on the environment

Labour released a package of environmental policies over the weekend, covering climate change, conservation, and the environment. So, how do they stack up? IMHO, pretty well for a major party.

On climate change [PDF], Labour would bring agriculture into to the ETS in 2013, though with a 90% pollution subsidy with an unclear phase-out rate. They’d also direct Solid Energy to give up its lignite plans, and make sure that any lignite mining and processing did not receive pollution subsidies. Finally, they’re signalling a change in foreign policy, promising to take “a leading role” in international climate change negotiations. That might not survive contact with MFAT, but at least the intention is there.

On Conservation [PDF], they’d establish a marine sanctuary around the Kermadec Islands, expand a few national parks, strengthen Schedule 4, and protect wild rivers. All pretty mainstream and as expected.

On the environment [PDF], they’ll review and strengthen oil spill preparedness, ban deep sea drilling without proper safeguards, and conduct an immediate investigation into fracking. However, they’re not planning on rolling back National’s RMA “reforms”, and are instead promising to promulgate further National Policy Statements (which are a fairly weak regulatory tool, but better than nothing).

Meanwhile, looking at National’s website, they’re not even bothering to list these issues anymore. They don’t have an environment, conservation or climate change policy; the closest they have is a “resource management” policy, the title of which tells you everything you need to know about their approach to these issues, and which is actually about further reducing public input and allowing developers and polluters to trample over the rest of us. These issues – the most important to New Zealanders, according to a recent 3 News poll – aren’t even an afterthought to them anymore. Instead, they’re things to be ignored, so that their rich mates can make more money at the expense of the rest of us.

38 comments on “Labour on the environment ”

  1. Peter 1

    Fantastic, but at this point in the election campaign you need to ask who is winning hearts and minds. Key I suspect is the clear winner.

  2. Richard Watts 2

    If your wealth is unsustainable do you have wealth? People like the Greens are like the family members of a lottery winner telling him to ‘invest it’ rather than spend it all at once. National will keep the good times rolling but once the money runs out the party is over and we’ll be no wealthier than when we started.

    We started in grinding poverty, we started in a time where any abuse was tolerable, we started in a time where people were lucky to make it into their 50’s. We (humans) got a one time bonanza of free fossil energy, we just had to extract it. Once the party is over we’ll be even worse off than before because suddenly our planet will have 6 billion more than we can feed.

    What I don’t understand is why aren’t the wealthy rushing to support the Greens? Surely they would have to understand that once the good times run out they have the furthest to fall. Surely they have to understand that as a Doctor, Lawyer, Analyst, CEO etc that their wealth is derived from the complexity of society which can only be achieved with a LOT of energy?

  3. insider 3

    “They’d also direct Solid Energy to give up its lignite plans”

    This is a typical half arsed approach and demonstrates the whole political meddling problem of SOEs. LAbour either is happy to have lignite mining or it isn’t. If it doesn’t like it, why not come out and ban it? What point is there in banning a single company from doing it when others can just step in and take their place? Why limit SE’s opportunity to invest and grow its business? Labour seem more worried that it might stain their image than head off any environmental issue.

  4. If it doesn’t like it, why not come out and ban it?

    Short answer: because this would be quicker and easier. Solid Energy is the biggest playr, with the most concrete plans. Getting them to drop those plans kills the problem with a flick of the Minister’s pen.

    This does open space for other players. Labour is I think relying on the ETS to do its job and make those plans uneconomic. But it needs to kill pollution subsidies in order for that to be the case.

    • insider 4.1

      Anything in there about banning selling the IP or mining permits? If not it won’t kill, though it may delay – coal mining is not a unique activity to SE in NZ (not that I think the plans are going anywhere fast – oil prices are way too low to commit to a coal to liquid plant).

  5. uke 5

    I would like to have seen an immediate moratorium on “fracking”, pending the outcome on any inquiry. This is not a properly “tested” technology, having been excluded in the US from having to meet the requirements of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

    • Richard Watts 5.1

      There is a lot of misinformation about Fracking. If the drillers were able to get the fractures to propagate as far as has been alleged they would make billions selling the secret. At best the fractures propagate about 100 feet.
      The reason why methane would escape is because of a bad concrete job. Heres a hint, Haliburton or big H doesn’t warrant their casing jobs and they will charge as much for the 1st as they would for the 10th.
      The produced fluid from the well brings about 70% of the fracking fluid back to the surface and this is either disposed of deep underground in re-injection wells. This happens over the first days to a week of operation.
      The reason why there are stories about exploding well water is because in many cases water wells are drilled into shallow natural gas reservoirs. Alternatively gas migrates naturally through fractures in the rock.
      There is no more danger from fracking as there is from conventional natural gas and oil exploitation.

      • Galeandra 5.1.1

        Well, I’ve read a lot of other commentators who say very different, many from the US. Support your opinions with some sources so that they can be evaluated.

        • insider

          Fracking is a process that has been used for over half a century all around the world in oil and gas wells, as well as in geothermal and water wells. The main objective is to insert sand grains into fractures to open them up and allow better transfer of the resource. That tells you how large these fractures are. You probably frack your garden with wider gaps when you dig a hole for a new shrub just through the impact of your spade or when you hammer in a fence post.

          What is new is the access to tight gas in shales. But these shales tend to be thousands of feet below the surface – well beyond any water sources. But because it is tight gas it means that more wells might be needed compared to a more traditional gas field. It’s not the fracking that is the issue when it comes to water contamination, it is the drilling process and well protection. But this is not unique to fracking, it is a well construction issue. The other is the waste fluids. Again it is how it is done by poor operators that is the key concern perhaps combined with higher water volumes involved in fracking (though water pressurisation of wells is relatively old technology in oil and gas). Putting the waste fluids 5000 feet underground should not be a concern to anyone who thinks a little beyond the scare stories or their plain primal fear of the unknown.

      • uke 5.1.2

        Personally, I would prefer no carnicogenic chemicals ever got remotely near the water table or “disposed of deep underground in re-injection wells”.

        • Richard Watts

          To be frank with you, the water coming up alongside the oil/natural gas is nastier than the actual fracking fluid. The reason why they have to dispose of the water appropriately is because it is laced with heavy metals and is extremely brackish and it contains oil/gas as well. A little known fact about the oil industry is that they are far more concerned about the brine than the are about the oil. Oil can be cleaned up but brine can ruin farmland for hundreds of years.

          I am not saying that fracking is good let me make this clear. I am saying that fracking is just as bad as every other oil/coal/gas extraction activity and no matter what there are still risks involved. The reason for instance why they test the blow out preventers every two weeks is because they are that unreliable. By all means oppose fracking but also oppose all other forms of natural gas and oil extraction as well.

          The EPA is regulating this by the way:


          Before I even think to look things up I would have to understand what you want. The geography of deep injection wells are pretty clear. I don’t see how fracking can contaminate water any more than primary and secondary extraction techniques could.

        • insider

          What do you think xylene, toluene etc are made from? mainly oil and gas. And where do we get them from? Mainly underground from oil and gas reservoirs….

          • uke

            Right. So because hydrogen cyanide can be produced partly from coal it’s quite okay to inject cyanide back into the ground. Or dioxins, because they can produced from hydrocarbons. In fact, considering every poisonous substance is synthesised from material deriving ultimately from the earth then, sure, inject it into the ground.

            • insider

              the vital difference being that xylene and toluene are naturally present in hydrocarbon deposits, and, last I heard, those hydrocarbons are generally considered toxic and can even be carcinogenic, and they are even known to exist in quite large quantities underground near water deposits, far greater quantities than the fluids used to enhance their extraction. Maybe we should remove all these hydrocarbon deposits to protect the water deposits?

    • insider 5.2

      It’s a very risky approach saying ‘the US does not regulate X’. They have huge amounts of regulation and exceptions. Just because a federal law may not cover some areas, doesn’t mean it is not regulated. In this case an EPA study said there was no contamination risk to water from coal bed methane fracking so the fluids used were excluded but other fracking elements are controlled. Fracking processes can also be regulated by states.

      • uke 5.2.1

        I did not say fracking is completely unregulated in the US. But as far as I understand, US fracking was exempted in 2005 from any regulation under the Safe Water Drinking Act by the EPA on the basis of the 2004 study you refer to (which was subsequently seriously criticised).
        There is certainly enough concern about this process that it has been banned or suspended in several parts of the world. I don’t see why NZ should cheerfully waltz into such a controversial activity.

        • insider

          but to say it was exempted implies that the law was relevant to the process and not including it was some form of policy failure. Something like a million wells have used fracking and they have never been regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act . So the ‘exemption’ was to prevent scope creep of the law into an area never previously covered or intended, a technique commonly followed in NZ law.

          So something being ‘controversial’ is your benchmark for banning something? Well kiss goodbye to windfarms, geothermal energy, fluorescent lightbulbs, electric vehicles, hydropower, tidal energy…

          • McFlock

            although, to be fair, none of the energy alternatives in your list have a realistic risk of polluting drinking water before it leaves the ground. That’s where the “controversy” about fracking comes in.

            • Richard Watts

              I think you need to rethink what you said. Geothermal energy does have similar risks as gas drilling in terms of risks to ground water. Wind farms, fluorescent lightbulbs and electric vehicles rely upon an extremely polluting extraction process for rare earth elements which can also risk ground water contamination. Hydro-power does have risk from creating stagnant water behind dams so that leaves tidal energy as the only one which doesn’t have risk to ground water by virtue of relying on sea water for power.
              All processes have risk involved and one must weight the pros and cons for all alternatives. Sometimes the alternatives do have worse consequences than the things they replace. It doesn’t help anyone to simply have irrational fears about things, we must all consider the practical and pragmatic responses like all human beings ought to.

              • Colonial Viper

                Sorry Richard Watts but you are talking from the standpoint that risks and consequences can be accurately measured and quantified, and that logical, analytical decisions can therefore be made in a robust and reliable fashion.

                None of which is (entirely) true.

                Actual real life decision making tends to follow the money, unless very judicious and impartial systems have been set up protecting against that.

                • Richard Watts

                  It depends on the risk/consequence.
                  Risk: Running low on energy.
                  Consequence: Billions die.
                  Some like the above are pretty explicit.
                  Most issues we face are from explicitly quantified risks such as global warming, soil depletion, peak water etc but the unfortunate response from many people is to put their fingers in their ears. 
                  When all parts of the world can be protected equally then the incentives for all business activities will be correct. At the moment the incentives are perverse because only some things are protected whilst others are not. China for instance is the only country willing to undertake rare earth mining and processing for perverse ecological reasons.

              • McFlock

                my understanding is that we were talking about fracking as opposed to other typres of drilling – geothermal doesn’t necessarily mean “fracking”, does it?
                As for the issue about mined elements possibly hurting groundwater, the energy extraction itself does not have the same issues as fracking – and the rare earth mining issues (which should be addressed) should be addressed separately. After all, I’m sure much of the fracking equipment has the same environmentally doubtful character as theequipment for wind farms and fluoro bulbs. 
                There is a wider picture, yes – but personally I think insider was just looking to muddy the debate via the “some are less pure than others = all are impure = all are equally impure” circle. Again.

                • Richard Watts

                  I have to be explicitly clear here. The depths they are talking about are in the order of thousands of feet underground. The problem is NOT the actual fracking, it is in the well casings. If the well casings fail and these do cross through fresh groundwater there will be contamination. This is a problem which all land based fossil fuel extraction faces. The water they are contaminating with fracking fluid would be an ecological disaster if it ever reached the surface or mixed with the water table regardless of whether there is fracking fluid in it or not. Almost all drilling aside from the Bakken shale formation produces considerable quantities of water.
                  Either oppose drilling or support drilling, it is a red herring to simply focus on the one aspect of drilling because it sounds scary. The reason for the link between fracking and water contamination is due to the sheer number of wells which must be drilled to access ‘tight gas’. The number of wells drilled multiplies the risk because each individual well casing has a chance of failure.
                  I just want to make it clear that I absolutely do NOT support fracking. I know enough about the oil industry from http://www.theoildrum.com to understand the risks involved. The difference is that I also do not support conventional gas and oil exploitation either. The fact remains however that we cannot replace even a fraction of the fossil fuels produced by alternatives at this juncture so whilst it is difficult to live with oil production it is impossible to live without it.

                  • rosy

                    “Either oppose drilling or support drilling, it is a red herring to simply focus on the one aspect of drilling because it sounds scary

                    I’m absolutely opposed to that kind of absolutist thinking 😉 when other factors, such as changing the environment the technology is used in, alters the risk profile of the operation.

                    A rather good summary of the regulatory debate in the US is here.

                    • Richard Watts

                      Im absolutely not being absolutist! 😉
                      Talking to an actual geologist who has worked on hundreds of drilling projects I might have an insight or two to share. Seriously the guy is anal about safety and making sure he meets Texas drilling regulations. He has to dispose of rainwater which falls on his drilling site with the same care as produced water form the well. To paraphrase him he would be thrilled if fracking in reality was as effective as portrayed in the media.
                      I can’t tell anyone that fracking is safe because I can’t say that any drilling for oil and natural gas is absolutely safe. I have said many many times that the risk involved comes from the well casing itself, the same casing which failed in the gulf of Mexico disaster along with the blow out preventor. 
                      I am trying to be pragmatic here. If you want to know I am a paying member of the Green party in New Zealand and I have been involved with many of their activities in the lead up to the election.

                    • rosy

                      Oh I’m not questioning your credentials, just the absolute positioning because it ends up in quite pedantic, and unrealistic debates, extending to the point of absurdity, like why the advocate of the position being argued might be using an oil-based product.

                      I think you’ve summed up the problem of exploiting fossil fuel resources with your last paragraph:

                      The fact remains however that we cannot replace even a fraction of the fossil fuels produced by alternatives at this juncture so whilst it is difficult to live with oil production it is impossible to live without it..

                      Decisions need to be made to divert resources toward alternatives in a big way. I’m more concerned about shale-fracking without an adequate regulatory framework than I am about reasonably well-tested conventional drilling, just as I am about deep-water drilling (and transporting the stuff). And even if the regulatory environment is adequate I don’t support the increasing exploitation of fossil fuels when it’s a reduction in demand and alternative technologies that are needed.

                      http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/09/fossil-fuel-infrastructure-climate-change – “If fossil fuel infrastructure is not rapidly changed, the world will ‘lose for ever’ the chance to avoid dangerous climate change”

                • insider

                  No, Uke said that controversy and other countries ‘banning’ it (I’d dispute that there are wholesale bans in many places) was reason to not do it here, yet it is a well proven and widely used technology whose environmental record is not out of kilter with other parts of the oil industry. If that were the measure to ban then a lot of things wouldn’t happen here. If you think untested tide power is not controversial go up to the kaipara, breeding ground of much of nz’s snapper. Wind farms are regularly in the news for environmental effects, do you know how much mercury wairakei pumps into the Waikato river? A lot more than generated by cfls and they are considered both a hazard and something to be made compulsory. Hydro ruins rivers apparently and electric cars require harmful batteries.

                  On the other hand methane in your water is by all accounts harmless (or no harm has been found). So let’s not allow fear and hyperbole to unnecessarily limit our energy options

                  • uke

                    You seem to have a habit of misquoting. I did not say “many” countries have banned fracking. I said several have banned or suspended. I said this was reason not to blithely go ahead with the technology. My initial posting recommended a moratorium pending an inquiry. Therefore your initial sentence is a complete mischaracterisation of what I said.
                    McFlock is correct. You’re just running intereference. Don’t know why I took the bait.

                    • insider

                      That’s hilarious – in accusing me of misquoting you, you misquote my ‘quote’ of you (which was actually a paraphrase).

                      You said it was not a properly tested technology “having been excluded in the US” from an environmental law. Exclusion from a particular regulation is not a valid test of a technology. Nor is the initial ‘tested’ statement even vaguely true because you ignore its long history across a range of mining-based industries – 60 years and a million wells. What is an adequate time and test regime in your view? Don’t go crying ‘interference’ just because you can’t take a tackle.

  6. The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 6

    ban deep sea drilling without proper safeguards

    Who, exactly, is advocating deep sea drilling without proper safeguards?

    • Richard Watts 6.1

      There are no real safe guards which can assure us that another deep sea Horizon won’t happen. Deep sea drilling is dangerous period because of the complexity and the sheer number of things which can go wrong as well as the difficulty in fixing them. Having safeguards won’t assure us that nothing will go wrong, it’ll just mean we have assurances that nothing can possibly go wrong until it does. If you’re doubting me here then all you need to do is look at Fukashima.

      • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 6.1.1

        Very good. Not the question I asked, though.

  7. Afewknowthetruth 7

    I defy anyone to watch Gasland and not be utterly horrified.


    We are witrnessing last acts of desperation on behalf of fossil fuel interests to prop up their dysfunctional house-of-cards economy, and they are making truck-loads of money in the process.

    • uke 7.1

      Yes, it’s essential viewing. Especially the bit where, before a congressional committee, the oil-company officials refused to drink water taken from (previously safe) wells nearing their fracking oeprations.

  8. exitlane 8

    on Schedule 4 they will consider expanding the area on the Coromandel off limits to mining to the southern Coromandel DOC estate  eg the area inland from Whangamata where Newmont Waihi Gold are drilling now and want to mine. 
    This is high value conservation land of equal or better status as the currently protected Schedule 4 land north of the Kopu Hikuia Road, so this policy is hugely welcome

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