Rules too tough, say oilmen
Taranaki's oil and gas industry may be in jeopardy because of increasingly stringent noise regulations that are becoming impossible to meet, industry insiders claim.
Oilmen say the regulations are now so tough, and officials so quick to police noise levels that drillers may choose to consign onshore Taranaki into the too-hard basket and walk away from the region.
Requirements are so tough that night-time noise levels at houses closest to drilling sites in Taranaki now have to be no greater than 45 decibels - similar to the sound of a refrigerator.
Tag Oil shut down drilling operations at its Sidewinder field on Durham Rd near Inglewood late last week after being ordered to do so by the New Plymouth District Council.
Council consents manager Ralph Broad confirmed yesterday that the drilling rig was not operating when readings were taken late on May 30 and showed noise levels reached 48 decibels.
"But obviously something must have happened on-site that caused the noise event. That's why we contacted Tag requiring an explanation."
Yesterday, Tag's chief operating officer, Drew Cadenhead, was saying little other than confirming his company had now stacked the drilling rig.
It will eventually be moved to another drill site, probably in the Cheal oil and gas field at Ngaere.
Workers were also at the site pulling down what had been dubbed the Great Wall of Sidewinder - a lineup of shipping containers stacked three-high in Tag's latest attempt to shield drilling noise and satisfy council requirements.
"But frankly it's been very difficult out there.
"We've tried our very hardest to do the right thing. The vast majority of our neighbours have been happy - and if they have raised any issues, then we have addressed those issues immediately," he said.
Petroleum Exploration and Production Association chief executive David Robinson yesterday warned that noise regulations must not become too stringent.
"We're actually a very compliant industry - if the officials say jump, we say how high," he said.
"But it's getting to the stage where if the regulations are too tough, the hurdles too high, then it will be a deterrent to future investment.
"There's no way we can do drilling operations absolutely silently. The standards have got to be reasonable."
Mr Broad said the required noise level is a New Zealand standard that has been in place for at least 10 years.
The requirement is that it must not exceed 50 decibels between 7am and 10pm, and not exceed 45 decibels between 10pm and 7am.
"Those levels must be as measured at a notional boundary such as a house," he said. "That means the challenge is to minimise the noise at its source."
To achieve the night-time noise levels, the drillers reduce the speed of their rigs, ban sources of any excessive noise such as loud-speakers, ensure there is no metal-to-metal contact, and stop vehicle movements.
Oil companies also go to considerable lengths to lessen the effects of drilling activity for nearby residents. These actions include double-glazing house windows, installing blackout curtains, and paying for hotel or motel accommodation if any family wishes to spend their nights away from the drilling.
Taranaki Daily News