Big oil spooks tiny town

By Paul Charman

Locals fear disruption from oil exploration.

Fracking may be used at some of the 83 wells at Tikorangi, an area of prime dairying land and lifestyle blocks in Taranaki. Photo / Paul Charman
Fracking may be used at some of the 83 wells at Tikorangi, an area of prime dairying land and lifestyle blocks in Taranaki. Photo / Paul Charman

Residents of a tiny rural community will gather this Tuesday to ponder its status as one of the most intensively drilled places in the country.

The New Plymouth District Council has either issued or is currently evaluating resource consents for more than 83 wells at Tikorangi, an area of prime dairying land and lifestyle blocks similar in size to Auckland's Dairy Flat.

Oil companies keen to expand land-based exploration into the East Coast of the North Island and Manawatu are likely to be watching proceedings. If exploration can co-exist with farmers in Tikorangi, it can probably do so anywhere.

Tikorangi's fate is to sit above the Mangahewa, Kowhai, Turangi and Epiha gas fields - rich areas of gas-bearing rock up to 4km below the Earth's surface.

Production of oil, gas and condensate in this area began when joint venture Shell BP Todd drilled its first Mangahewa well in 1961.

The two companies now active at Tikorangi, Todd Taranaki and Greymouth Petroleum, increasingly use fracking, which can be used to make old wells economical again.

Fracking was approved in November in an interim report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

New Plymouth Mayor Harry Duynhoven says deep-level fracking at Tikorangi and in other Taranaki fields should not be compared to overseas sites, where the practice has been blamed for pollution of groundwater and even earthquakes.

Duynhoven does not accept the reports from overseas, "but in any case, at Tikorangi fracking happens far below the aquifer", he says.

The practice is not the sole worry for Tikorangi residents.

Abbie Jury, who is organising Tuesday's meeting at the local hall, says locals endure heavy traffic and noise from machinery and the flaring of natural gas at well sites. Other concerns include the impact on property values, fears of possible spillage from toxic loads carried by trucks, or even a gas explosion.

"Safety is a sore point since our school and play centre are located close by these operations," Jury says.

"Most of us are not philosophically against the idea of having an oil industry. We are saying that the checks and balances on this industry do not appear to be adequate.

"Only so-called affected parties are informed in advance, but who is deemed to be an affected party seems to us be a subjective judgement," she says.

Oil companies have paid for double-glazing in houses worst affected by noise, roads are being built to serve the truck traffic in and out of Tikorangi, and much of the ground is honeycombed with pipes to carry gas and condensate.

Jury says Tikorangi cannot be compared to rural residents unhappy with an unwanted new neighbour, such as a new pig farm.

"What we have to contend with is a country area being turned into an industrial one."

- Herald on Sunday

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