Oil firm called to explain illegal flaring

HELEN HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 22/11/2012
Fracking
FAIRFAX NZ
LIGHTING UP THE NIGHT: Despite consent conditions that flaring would be used only in emergencies, in recent months the practice has become commonplace and occurs around the clock in Taranaki.

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After flaring illegally at Ngaere for 10 months, Tag Oil is seeking permission to continue the practice until March.

A hearing was held at the Stratford District Council yesterday in front of commissioner Mick Lester, to look at Tag Oil's application to continue flaring, which came after the council called them to task.

Under its resource consent the oil company is allowed to flare only at its Cheal A site in response to an emergency situation.

Giving evidence on behalf of Tag Oil, Andrea Smith said that when the initial consent was granted last year, the existing infrastructure connecting Cheal A to the Waihapa gas-processing plant was being used and there was no need to flare.

"However, a number of unforeseen factors beyond Tag's control, including changes in ownership of the Waihapa gas processing facility, resulting in a shutdown of continuous gas transportation and a substantial increase in solution gas from increased oil production, resulted in nearly continuous flaring at the Cheal A site for 10 months."

The council then issued the oil company with an abatement notice and Tag applied for a variation on the conditions of its resource consent.

Mike Avery, council director community and environmental services, said the flaring had been at the upper end of the spectrum and going into Stratford in the early morning was like going into the "bowels of Mordor".

"Under certain atmospheric conditions the glow was amazing to see and it was having a significant effect on the surroundings," he said.

One of the conditions the council has imposed if the flaring is allowed is for a two-metre bund to be built around the flare pit.

This would keep a tight limit on the flare so it would be little more than a pilot flare, Mr Avery said.

Three landowners whose properties are near the Cheal A site made submissions opposing the continued flaring.

Speaking on behalf of the Morrison family, Sarah Roberts said there had been significant light disturbance from the flaring for many months and it had taken a long time for the council to deal with the matter.

"We do not believe it is appropriate to allow them to flare continuously for several more months," she said. The oil and gas should stay in the ground until the consenting issues and infrastructure relating to flaring and production were resolved.

Grant Brunton told the hearing that he wanted production to stop until Cheal A was a fully functional site. The surrounding environment was rural production land but it felt more like a semi-industrial area.

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Mr Brunton said that because of Tag's past actions, he was sceptical that the flaring would stop in March.

David Dent said the oil company was aware its actions were affecting landowners and there needed to be more communication to find common ground.

Tag Oil was taking measures to ensure that the effects of the flaring were minimised, Mrs Smith said.

These would include the construction of a bund around the flare pit, scaling back production to minimise the volume of gas and continuing negotiations with third-party processors to send gas to Waihapa.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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