Stewart Islanders up in arms over gas-drill plans

17:00, Jul 15 2012

More than 50 Stewart Islanders have signed a petition against the decision to allow a gas exploration well at Horseshoe Bay.

Organiser Britt Moore said 55 people signed in two hours on Saturday.

Other islanders were away and could not sign, she said, while several holiday-home owners had called and emailed to express their support.

"We've gone from the community board saying there isn't any [opposition] to getting all these people in a couple of hours," Dr Moore said. "I hate having to do the petition. I shouldn't have to do that."

The Southland District Council granted Greymouth Petroleum consent for the exploration well on Thursday after a non-notified process, which does not require public consultation.

Another non-notified application had been lodged for a well at Ringa Ringa, near the island's golf course, but was on hold while the first well was drilled, Dr Moore said.

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The petition asked for public notification for any future drilling, for independent environmental impact studies, and opposed any kind of drilling on Stewart Island, she said.

"It is clear people are upset they were excluded from the process as it goes against two decades of developing an ecotourism-based economy," she said.

Greymouth Petroleum had held a community meeting to discuss its plans but this was not consultation, she said.

"Public consultation empowers a whole community [on and off the island] to influence the decision-making process," she said. "This did not happen in the case of Greymouth Petroleum."

The petition would continue to be available to sign at the Kiwi-French Creperie, she said.

"It is difficult for people to stand up and be counted in small communities where the tall-poppy syndrome dominates. Not everyone will go to a public meeting or sign their name to a letter or petition."

Six British tourists who saw the rig site in Horseshoe Bay came to the cafe and said they could not believe it was there, she said.

"These guys [Greymouth] are going to be here to almost December. That's really concerning because lots of tourists are going to see it."

She said she hoped to make the drilling a national issue.

Greymouth could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Southland Times