Living near oil site has problems

Consents have been granted to drill 43 wells in the Tikorangi area and about 14 have been drilled so far
Consents have been granted to drill 43 wells in the Tikorangi area and about 14 have been drilled so far

At first glance, Tikorangi School is in an idyllic setting, in the middle of the countryside surrounded by paddocks, but look again.

There's an oil site here and an oil site there, and there's another one across the road where Greymouth Petroleum began drilling Kowhai B on January 7.

Tikorangi Playcentre sits on the well site side of the school.

Both are concerned about safety if there is an incident at Kowhai B or one of the many trucks carrying hazardous substances crashes outside.

Over the road, Graeme Foreman complains that he is confined to his house at night, because of the noisy well site that sits on his boundary.

His home is 300 metres from the site, but he wasn't considered an "affected party", so was not consulted about the new project.

This is despite emails from a consultant on hazardous substances hired by the New Plymouth District Council saying he should be.

Consents have been granted to drill 43 wells in the Tikorangi area and about 14 have been drilled so far. Resource consent applications for a further 16 have been lodged with the council.

As the well sites increase so do the number of complaints from residents - about the large trucks, drilling noise, bright lights in the middle of the night, the language floating across the paddocks and the change in landscape from rural to industrial.

Residents spoken to by the Taranaki Daily News say they don't want the oil companies out, but they do want the council to take control.

The playcentre and the school aren't happy with the level of communication from the council.

The council sought written approval from the school and mistakenly believed this included the playcentre. It didn't. They are separate entities.

So Tikorangi Playcentre president Jody O'Mahony contacted Greymouth Petroleum about her concerns.

"They are at least trying to help, but it would have been great to have been involved initially in the consultation process."

Her husband works in the oil industry, so she knows what can go wrong, O'Mahony says.

"And if something does go wrong, we've got no assurances, no safety plan, no nothing.

"They are drilling very close to the school and very close to the playcentre, so if something goes wrong how are they going to safeguard our children?"

Greymouth is meeting both O'Mahony and Tikorangi School principal Paul Johnson next week to discuss health and safety procedures.

The school is in a precarious situation, Johnson says.

"We have a high-pressure gas line running in front of the school which has been existing for years. We're in the middle of a petrochemical area. If something goes wrong, I need to be sure our children and community are safe."

Johnson, who lives in the school house, says the community is feeling let down by the council over the level of consultation.

"We tend to find out things are happening when it is too late really, instead of being part of the consent process. Things out here are done to you as opposed to with you."

The school knew Kowhai B was coming, Johnson says, but a lot of people in the community didn't.

Rumour seems to be the way residents in the area hear what is going on, but the rumours just "create speculation and unease", Graeme Foreman says.

"The council has issued consents here without my knowledge even though I am the immediate neighbour."

As part of the resource consent process, the council sends details to Norbert Schaffoener, of Resources Hazardous Substance and Resource Management Consulting.

During the consent process last year, Schaffoener sent emails to the council saying Foreman should be treated as an affected party.

Council team leader consents Rowan Williams says that Greymouth then put measures in place to mitigate the effects on the Foreman property.

The oil company built an earth wall, called a bund, Foreman says.

"So if anything blows up, that little bit of dirt is supposed to keep me safe. I'll hold on to that happy thought."

His most pressing issue is the noise, which he says is "very, very loud and there all the time".

Greymouth has agreed to install double glazing in his home.

Foreman says he understood Greymouth was drilling one or maybe two wells, but last week he heard on the grapevine that Greymouth had consent to drill eight wells on the Kowhai B site.

"I like to think I'm a reasonable chap and if they are going to be there for three months and make some effort to reduce the noise or help me out and then are gone again . . . if they're gone in three months, I can live with that, but if it's for the next three years, that's a whole different ball game."

The community has no idea what is happening, he says.

"There is a feeling of powerlessness. The council needs to take the concerns of people in Tikorangi a little bit more seriously. The oil industry is here to stay, there is no doubt about that.

"What we need is to have a lot better monitoring and systems in place to make sure that before these companies are allowed to start, systems are in place to minimise disruption."

Longtime Tikorangi resident Abbie Jury agrees.

"We are not trying to stop the petrochemical industry. We are just desperate to see better management by councils to reduce the impact on locals. To read New Plymouth District Council reports saying things like 'The impact has been assessed to be less than minor' and 'This will not alter the rural character' simply beggars belief."

The council does not seem to be even looking at the cumulative effects of multiple activities operating in the same area, she says.

"All they are doing is responding piecemeal to applications. There is no planning or overview at the council. I very much doubt that the council has any understanding of what the bigger picture is. Nobody is joining the dots."

Jury has been calling for a moratorium to stop drilling until the council has a plan and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, releases her report later in the year, but council general manager of policy and planning Frank Versteeg says that can't happen.

The council is legally obliged to respond to every resource consent application.

Versteeg says there isn't a set plan around the number or positioning of oil sites, other than what is in the District Plan.

Until recently, the council wasn't aware of the level of discontent in Tikorangi and may hold a community forum if that is what people wanted.

Problems in Tikorangi have been exacerbated by all the extra activity, Versteeg says.

"We did a rural review not that long ago [2010] and oil exploration didn't come up through that process as an issue. Obviously, now it has."

This is reflected in the increase in complaints to both the council and the oil companies.

Over two years the council received 36 complaints, from 19 people and six anonymous callers. Eighteen of those complaints came in the last six months.

Most of the complaints concern the number of trucks on the roads and the noise from the drilling.

These are also the main complaints received by Todd Energy. Greymouth Petroleum wouldn't comment.

Todd also received five complaints over the last year regarding either light or language issues, which it promptly rectified, Todd Energy chief executive Paul Moore says.

There has been an increase in complaints this year. "This reflects the significantly increased site activity over the last year with the pipeline, production and drilling all coming online at the same time."

Moore says Todd Energy has between nine and 13 tankers travelling to and from McKee daily.

"There are other truck movements, but these depend on what project work is being undertaken and we notify neighbours in advance of any peaks."

The company held a community advisory forum last week and it was attended by Margaret Smith, who lives 720m away from Mangahewa C.

She suggested to Todd that perhaps they could have one truck free day a week. Smith is developing an organic garden and wants to know if this would be affected by the flaring.

Fiona Clark lives in an 1880s dairy factory, which is a designated a historic building. It shakes when the tankers roll past and she is concerned the road outside has a pipeline under it and it is slumping.

"These are rural roads. They're not built for nine tankers an hour," she says.

Todd has appointed a dedicated community relations manager and established a free community phone line, 0800 001 007.

Taranaki Daily News