Exploratory oil wells divide neighbourhoods

By Christine McKay, Patrick O'Sullivan of Hawke's Bay Today -

Permission for two exploratory oil wells in Tararua District is dividing neighbourhoods and will damage a "screaming" environment, say opponents.

The Horizons Regional Council consent does not include fracking but a High Court injunction is on the cards says farmer Donald James, spokesman for a group of landowners fighting the exploration.

"Others may try physical opposition, but personally, I'm going to keep a close eye on TAG because they've breached their consents in Taranaki and I'm sure they'll do the same here," Mr James said.

"We know that from the nature of the rock here, you have to frack."

TAG has had technical breaches of its resource consents in the past, but last year Taranaki Regional Council said the company had demonstrated a high level of environmental performance and compliance.

TAG Oil chief executive Garth Johnson said his company was striving to leave the "smallest possible environmental footprint".

"These two wells are conventional vertical wells that will not be fracked," he said.

The aim was to simply determine what is there.

The wells, 1900m and 2000m deep, will be on private land at Mangahei and Ngapaeruru Roads, east of Dannevirke.

"We will carry out all work on the East Coast in the same careful, methodical and safe way that we have worked in Taranaki for over a decade," Mr Johnson said.

Work would start immediately, to meet permit conditions set down by New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals.

Nic Peet, group manager strategy and regulation for Horizons Regional Council, said the consents were not notifiable under the Resource Management Act because the environmental effects were deemed to be minor.

"Horizons engaged experts Oil wells set neighbours at odds with each other

from both within New Zealand and overseas on key areas such as well integrity and ground and surface water quality as part of this process," Dr Peet said.

Fracking was not proposed in the applications but any future applications would be assessed on its merits, he said.

All wastes would be removed from the site and disposed of at consented facilities in Taranaki.

Tararua Mayor Roly Ellis said it was time for the district to look forward.

"We've got to be open-minded and although I understand the concerns of others, we'd be foolish to turn away economic benefits for our district," he said. "TAG is investing a lot of money without knowing the outcome and that investment can only help our district. We have to have a mix of farming and industry for the Tararua to survive and feedback from many in the district is that they want to see activity such as oil exploration. It's not as though TAG are putting down hundreds of wells and the consent process has been thorough and taken a lot longer

than we'd expected."

A government report released this month said East Coast communities would be boosted by $2 billion annually if an oil and gas industry similar to Taranaki's was developed.

Mr James said once work began at the wells, opposition would grow.

"There will be people affected and that will lift the level of opposition. Can you imagine, if you have to drive all the way down Mangahei Rd at 40km/h because big trucks are using that road?" Mr James said.

He said his neighbourhood had already paid a high social cost from the exploration. His neighbours were losing trust in each other.

"The oil company sign you up with a confidentiality agreement and you end up lying to your neighbours," he said.

"In a community like ours you can literally rely on your neighbours for your life. We know and trust each other a lot, so this is not good at all."

Hine Carberry, resource management appraisal officer for agency Rangitane o Tamaki Naui a Rua Incorporated said it was opposed to the drilling.

"Anything that is going to place even the slightest bit of harm on our waterways, we do not support," Ms Carberry said.

"We feel Papatuanuku needs protecting. She is screaming out for help from damage done by industries big and small. She is struggling and drilling into her in this manner is damaging."

"While we like to drive our cars and sow our crops, we understand parts of life are supported by oil, but we would rather survive long term."

Since the consents were lodged Apache Corporation ended its joint venture with TAG, as it pulled back on global operations. Taranaki-based Canadian TAG is well-placed to drill without Apache. It is cashed up thanks to continuing success in Taranaki.

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