It is interesting that TAG Oil is looking at submitting resource consents for drilling at Porangahau at the same time as the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s (PCE) final fracking report is due out. Instead of giving the citizens of Hawkes Bay an opportunity to digest and act on any recommendations she may make, TAG is putting the HBRC in the unenviable position of having to process consents under rules that may need to be strengthened. Even though the HBRC has already agreed to amend the Regional Resource Management Plan to take account any recommendations made by the PCE they will take time to implement.
One of the issues that I hope is clarified in the PCEs report is the question of when are the effects of a resource consent be ‘considered more that minor’. This is the trigger for public notification. To my mind each individual site should not be considered in isolation as they have been in Taranaki. It is the scale of the industry taken as a whole – its ‘cumulative’ effects – that is of concern, as the risks of failure increase exponentially with each well added. Whilst one exploratory well on it’s own could be seen as having no more than minor effects it is obvious that if the results of exploration turns out favourably then there would possibly need to be thousands of wells required to make the oil & gas industry viable in Hawkes Bay. Do the effects become more than minor after 10 wells? or 100 wells? or 1,000 wells? Not even HBRC is clear on this.
In the course of the public meetings Don’t Frack the Bay (DFTB) have hosted in rural halls over the last 18 months or so, it is obvious that landowners have not been well informed of their property rights. Under the Crown Minerals Act they are under no obligation to sign access agreements and they should not feel under any pressure to do so. It is unfortunate that landowners have felt isolated and pressured to sign these agreements in the past and DFTB hopes that when approached in the future landowners first course of action would be to say no, then seek legal advice (either from their lawyer or from say Federated Farmers), and then discuss the request with their neighbours. DFTB also recommends that confidentiality agreements are not signed. Just ask yourself who is being protected by a confidentiality agreement, the landowner or the oil company?
One of the other recommendations made by the PCE and in the East Coast Oil & Gas Development Study from over 12 months ago was for a public discussion to be held about the oil & gas industry. Apart from the symposium held by Hastings District Council last year, which was instigated after an approach by DFTB, has there been any discussion about how we are going to deal with this? Whilst DFTB has had some discussions with NZ Petroleum & Minerals (which is part of MBIE) about setting up a stakeholder group nothing has come of this, apart from a suggestion that such a group should include central & local government officials, Iwi, Federated Farmers, and the industry. We understand Horizions rejected this suggestion. Similarly, despite recommendations being made by HBRC councillor’s no progress has been made by HBRC around initiating genuine inclusive public discussion around the oil & gas industry. This is no where near good enough.
No attempt that DFTB is aware of has been made to answer the PCE’s six East Coast questions and it will be interesting to see what is contained in any TAG consent application, and whether it has considered the PCE’s concerns. Gisborne District Council’s recent consent application contained 70 odd conditions and whilst it is just a number we trust the HBRC will being giving any fresh applications similar consideration. One of the things that DFTB wishes to ensure is that in the event that a consent is granted for drilling at Porangahau any conditions are complied with. I suggest you watch this space.