Tag to drill for oil close to school

HELEN HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 27/05/2014

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A rural Taranaki school says it is worried about an oil company's plans to drill less than a kilometre from its grounds.

Tag Oil has applied for resource consent to drill the Sidewinder B well within 700 metres of Norfolk School, south of Inglewood. The school has a roll of 140.

The school's board of trustees had serious concerns around increased traffic, possible spillages, emergency situations and evacuations, chairman Karl Hitchcock said.

Tag chief executive Garth Johnson said the company was confident there was no risk to the school because the proposed drill site was on the other side of the main highway and the railway line which bordered the school.

The initial proposal is for two wells, but there could be up to eight if the site goes to commercial production.

On Friday the school's board sent a letter to parents informing them of the situation and asking for their views.

The board was treating the issue very seriously as it could potentially affect the health and safety of the staff and pupils, Hitchcock said.

They were now on a steep learning curve as they tried to understand the RMA process to ensure they had an opportunity to have their say.

"It hasn't just been sprung on us, we had notification they were intending to do this, so have had time to do some background work. We govern a school, so this is something we don't generally do."

He wanted to make sure the board had all the information so they knew what was going on, he said.

"We have a committee that's in charge with dealing with it. They'll sit down with both councils (New Plymouth District and Taranaki Regional councils) and Tag and see what our rights are and how we can go through the process in a meaningful and engaged way. One of the goals is to be deemed an affected party, so we'll have a little bit more input into the process."

Principal Jason Elder said buses dropped children off and picked them up along what was already a busy main highway.

"We have something unique here and we want to protect it, that's why the board has been so proactive on it."

Johnson said any concerns local residents had about the planned well site could be addressed and dealt in the consenting process.

"There will be plenty of opportunity for locals to have their say before a decision is made and Tag will keep talking to the school and nearby residents in the meantime," he said.

Also, there will be no truck movements past the school gate. The site is on Upper Norfolk Rd, and the school is on Lower Norfolk Rd, on the other side of SH3 and the railway line.

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During the construction phase, about six weeks, there could be up to 56 extra vehicles on the road.

New Plymouth District Council consents manager Ralph Broad said Tag only lodged its consent application last week, so it hadn't been decided who were the affected parties.

If consent is approved the first well is expected to be drilled in early 2015. The site will target oil, not gas and there will be no fracking.

- Taranaki Daily News

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