Oil wellsite probe news to explorers

HELEN HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 21/08/2014

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A Government unit says it is investigating Tag Oil's Cardiff 3 wellsite, but the oil company knows nothing about it.

WorkSafe New Zealand said the High Hazards Unit (HHU) was in the early stages of an investigation in "relation to activities" at Tag Oil's Cardiff 3 wellsite, which is near Stratford.

There was no further comment because the investigation was ongoing, a stance that has angered Taranaki environmentalists.

Tag Oil says it can't throw any light on the subject because it doesn't know anything about it.

Drilling at the Cardiff 3 well was completed late last year and more work at the well won't begin until mid-2015 at the earliest.

Tag Oil chief executive Garth Johnson said HHU investigated an alleged administrative error for notified maintenance work Tag carried out at another of its wellsites, its Cheal A3X, earlier this year.

"HHU believes Tag started the work a day early. Tag believes it had the appropriate approvals in place to begin the maintenance."

During this work, there was a small fire, which was reported to HHU, Johnson said.

"A small amount of residual gas and condensate burned for a few minutes inside the flare chamber after flaring of gas. It was put out immediately with a fire extinguisher. No-one suffered any injury as a result and there were no safety concerns for people in the vicinity."

Green Party candidate for New Plymouth Sarah Roberts sent HHU an Official Information Act request in May after the Taranaki Daily News reported there had been 78 dangerous incidents recorded in Taranaki's oil and gas industry between March 2012 and February this year.

And last month Climate Justice Taranaki researcher Catherine Cheung sent in an OIA request to HHU specifically about the Cardiff 3 wellsite with questions around well integrity and whether there had been any incidents at the site.

Both OIA requests were turned down because of an "ongoing investigation".

Roberts said it was a major concern that HHU would not give any details on its investigation.

"I am very worried about the safety of the neighbouring families who live very close to these well sites. They literally share the same risks as the oil and gas workers because of the proximity. Tag Oil identifies 20 families on their emergency response plans, all within 500 metres of the Cardiff well site, let alone the town and SH3 just beyond that."

Cheung said there had to be some consequences when a business was under investigation.

"I think what bothers me most is not only the fact the public can't find out more, but it seems to have no effect on what Tag is doing and can do at other sites. They can't keep doing the same thing somewhere else. And we're not supposed to know any of this."

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- Taranaki Daily News

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