Energy watchdog calls for more controls on oil and gas industry

Taranaki Energywatch's delegation from left: Greg Carlyon, Louise Wickham, Sarah Roberts, Jennifer Polich and Ruby ...
Catherine Groenestein

Taranaki Energywatch's delegation from left: Greg Carlyon, Louise Wickham, Sarah Roberts, Jennifer Polich and Ruby Hazen, who presented their views to the South Taranaki District Council's district plan hearing on Thursday.

An energy watchdog is urging the South Taranaki District Council to impose more control on oil and gas activities, including separation zones of up to 1000 metres around large sites.

Taranaki Energy Watch hired four specialists in legal, air emission, planning and risk management who spoke on behalf of the group at a hearing for the council's new district plan on Thursday.

Resource management and planning expert Greg Carlyon said the oil and gas industry needs clear regulation.

"When it goes wrong the results can be catastrophic and long lasting and it [the council] has the responsibility of making sure that does not occur, alongside the regional council and other authorities," 

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The industry had grown exponentially over the past decade, but local and national regulation had not kept up with that, he said.

"The industry is very sophisticated, very well resourced and moves at speed, and the pressure that that puts on districts is enormous." 

He said the council had a responsibility under the resource management act to put greater controls in place.

"These guys are busy making a district plan at a time when there's a bit of a lull in activity and it's time to get it right, things like separation distances and small exclusion zones are one way of putting controls in that I am sure the industry can work with."

Energywatch spokeswoman Sarah Roberts said the group fielded a lot of calls from concerned people living near to oil and gas sites and it felt the district plan needed more restrictions on how close such activity could be to sensitive sites such as people's houses. 

"We were quite concerned because it [the proposed plan] wasn't going to achieve what was needed around separation distances and the safety of the community that lives beside them."

"We wanted to make sure it was about the science, what was the actual risk, so we decided to employ people that are top in their field with risk analysis to do with petroleum and air quality and their reports verified our concerns."

Jennifer Polich, a Sydney-based expert in risk management in the oil and gas industry, said the district plan should categorise oil and gas sites as non complying activities to ensure sufficient assessment was done for new facilities.

"In my opinion, major hazardous facilities should not be 'permitted' in any location or zone. 

"This type of facility should always require some sort of kind of formal assessment with enough information to show that effects have been assessed and the risks to people and property associated with abnormal releases of hazardous substances have been minimised."

Representatives from other submitters on energy matters will speak to the committee on June 21. After hearing all submitters the committee will present the plan to the council in September.

 - Stuff

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