Warning on oil and gas exploration in Southland ahead of annual Block Offer

Sarah Roberts of Taranaki Energy Watch will be hosting public meetings in Southland to talk about her opinions of ...
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Sarah Roberts of Taranaki Energy Watch will be hosting public meetings in Southland to talk about her opinions of adverse affects from oil and gas companies gaining exploration permits.

Oil and gas companies gaining exploration permits in Southland could adversely affect residents, farms and schools throughout the region, a visitor to the region says. 

Taranaki Energy Watch spokeswoman Sarah Roberts says her health and safety concerns from Taranaki led her to travel Southland and share her experiences. 

On Thursday, Roberts asked an Invercargill group to consider their legal rights if they were asked by a company to sign an access agreement. 

In Taranaki, which is covered in exploration permits, Roberts said many landowners and residents had concerns about health, noise, traffic, fumes, water contamination and devaluation of property. 

READ MORE: Oil and gas exploration sparks public meetings

"We started like you, with one block offer, and now our whole province is covered," Roberts said.

"It's part of this government's business growth agenda." 

Information from Taranaki Energy Watch, a lobby group against oil and gas drilling, says even with permits from the Crown and the local councils, no mining company could come on to a landowner's property without their agreement.

Roberts, a schoolteacher, said she became aware of the smell and sounds of a well site near their home in 2012. 

"We had quite a lot of concerns with the well sites around us with the smell in the air and the ground shaking," she said. 

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An attraction, the Garden of National Significance, had to be closed because of well site noise, she said. 

Noise and emissions from well sites affected schools, she said. 

Well sites also had the potential to adversely affect water and land quality from discharging their waste to the land, she said. 

Roberts said many people would comment positively on how much money Taranaki was making from gas exploration. 

However, she said figures showed much of the region was highly deprived and on the lowest end of the socioeconomic scale. 

Money made from the exploration did not stay in the region, she said. 

"People are coming from outside the area to do work, and then they leave again." 

Roberts said she came to Southland to spread the information so people could have more information about the impact of gas and oil exploration. 

"We encourage people to be proactive about it before making a decision." 

Tenders for petroleum exploration permits through the Block Offer 2017 process are open until September, and include the Southland Onshore Release area.

The block covers land around Te Anau, Western Southland and land south of the Hokonuis, covering an area of 3568 square kilometres.

The New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals website says the Western Southland Basin is prospective for oil and gas but is under-explored.

Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand chief executive Cameron Madgwick said there was a lot of time between the signing of a permit and any action taking place. 

"Our industry is highly regulated and everything requires multiple consents from local and central government.

"We are in an industry that's open and transparent and we want to speak to people about their concerns." 

In Taranaki, about 7000 people worked directly in the industry, Madgwick said.

"Of course, there will be some specialists, where those skills don't exist in the region. 

"But the majority of the work is done by locals." 

The association disagreed that the water quality was adversely impacted, he said.

"In fact, often the Taranaki Regional Council, who address discharges, go around all our sites and monitor them regularly. 

"Often they are finding that the water that comes off our sites is cleaner than the water that comes on." 

Roberts is touring Southland this week to address the public and councils about her experiences. 

 - Stuff

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