Noise silences Sidewinder drilling

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 05:00 04/06/2013

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Operations at a major Taranaki onshore gasfield have been suspended because its owner can't meet increasingly stringent noise regulations.

The field is Sidewinder, between Inglewood and Egmont National Park in countryside popular for lifestyle farming.

Conflict between the gasfield's owner Tag Oil (NZ) Ltd and some residents - the closest live just 130 metres away - resulted in drilling operations being shut down on Friday.

Ironically this action has occurred just a few days before a major national oil and gas conference in New Plymouth, which will feature several workshops and presentations on how energy companies can improve their relationships with the public and land owners.

The Sidewinder shutdown took place days after New Plymouth District Council ordered Tag to meet noise-related conditions that are part of its resource consent.

"We issued the order because we require some assurances that Tag will indeed meet the noise conditions," said the council's consents manager, Ralph Broad, yesterday.

"Obviously Tag have now decided to shut down operations while they work out some solutions.

"I think that's a sensible move," he said.

Tag's Taranaki-based chief operating officer, Drew Cadenhead, said he did not know when drilling at Sidewinder will resume.

"We've voluntarily shut things down over Queen's Birthday weekend to give the locals a bit of a break and to see what more we can do to reduce noise levels," he said.

The company is drilling Sidewinder-A8, the eighth and final well consented to be drilled from the site, and it will require no more than another two weeks to reach target depth.

"After that, the site will be a small gas production station with little or no noise at all."

Mr Cadenhead said it was difficult not to feel that Tag, and other players in the exploration industry in Taranaki, were being increasingly picked on by officials.

"It's very difficult to run a drilling rig at that level of quiet [45 decibels]. We're going above and beyond the call of duty to achieve it, for example, we've set up a wall of 40-foot shipping containers to act as a barrier, and we're monitoring the noise 24/7. But it's still not good enough."

But Mr Broad said the district council was not picking on Tag.

"We actually usually give the energy companies a little bit of leeway so they can sort things out. But in Tag's case these noise issues have been going on for some time," he said.

Mr Broad said as far as he was concerned, the issue with exploration in onshore Taranaki was that some drilling rigs being used were "desert" rigs that had not been designed for use in close proximity to people and noise-sensitive activities.

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"But in Taranaki there are a lot more people choosing to live in the country. So it's becoming increasingly difficult for the drillers to find an isolated site."

The Enex oil and gas conference will be held at New Plymouth's TSB Stadium on Thursday and Friday.

Topics scheduled to be covered include overcoming public nervousness about the energy industry, creating a working relationship with farmers, and engagement with local government.

- Taranaki Daily News

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