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An article in the Sunday Star Times this weekend (22 January) suggested that oil companies were trying to ‘woo’ East Coast Council councillors and staff with an all-expenses paid trip to North America.
The reality is the trip is an opportunity for staff to up skill so they can deal with new approaches to oil and gas exploration, says Gisborne District Council chief executive Lindsay McKenzie.
“Oil and gas exploration is not new for Gisborne District Council but some techniques such as fracking are. Right now we don’t have a lot of knowledge or expertise in this area. We understand that some people may be dubious about a trip for staff to Canada being paid for by an oil company. It is important to remember that under the Resource Management Act when someone wants to do something new with our resources the cost of ensuring Council is well informed is meet by the applicants not ratepayers. This is exactly what is happening here.”
“It will one of a number of steps Council is taking to up skill ourselves to deal with these new issues. We will also be visiting Taranaki – an area with valuable experience in oil and gas exploration - talking to independent experts and seeking out expert consultants to use.”
“The oil companies have not set the agenda about what staff would see and do on the trip. It is up to the two Councils involved to make sure their learning objectives are meet. It won’t be just about science and technology - although this is important – it will also be about tangata whenua/first people’s perspective on fracking and oil exploration. Staff expect to meet with environmentalists, regulators and indigenous people.”
“The goal is to have staff who can offer impartial, well informed advice to Councillors and commissioners hearing any resource consent applications. This is in the best interest of those with environmental concerns as much as it is those with exploration licences.”
It is proposed that a staff member from Gisborne District Council and Hawkes Bay Regional Council make the trip in February. A report will be going to Gisborne District Council on Thursday recommending that environmental services manager Trevor Freeman visit Canada to collect information on oil and gas exploration activities relating to the Gisborne district.