Gisborne District Council has noted the level of public interest and debate concerning the Council’s role in consenting for oil exploration and the possible use of hydraulic fracturing in the Gisborne district.
Council’s Environment and Policy Group Manager Hans van Kregten says that staff have been liaising with other regional council staff in New Zealand who are more experienced with oil exploration and production, particularly in the Taranaki region.
At yesterday’s (Wednesday 14 March) Environment and Policy Committee meeting, Council received a report from Environmental Services Manager, Trevor Freeman on a fact finding mission to Canada. Mr Freeman was accompanied on that trip by a staff member from Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.
The focus of the Canadian trip was to talk to regulators in British Columbia and Alberta, both provinces with a large and mature oil and gas industry. Mr Freeman reported that in British Columbia and Alberta 175,000 fracturing operations have been carried out without any incidents of aquifer contamination from the fracturing process. Mr Freeman’s initial conclusion is that the two wells proposed for the Gisborne district will be able to be managed through existing planning provisions and that they should provide sound environmental protection.
Mr Freeman also noted that in Canada, as in New Zealand, regulators are struggling to get accurate information about fracturing. In his view, central government would appear to be an independent and reliable source of such information.
Mr van Kregten says that so far, central government in New Zealand has taken a backseat role in the fracturing and mining debate. “Central government have granted TAG Oil and Apache permits to carry out work in a joint venture with Apache Corporation in parts of the East Coast for petroleum resources. They are undertaking oil exploration work in three locations along the East Coast, one in the Gisborne district and two more in Hawke’s Bay and in the Manawatu-Whanganui region. However, central government have left it up to small councils such as ours to process resource consents and respond to public concern over mining and fracturing.”
Whilst Council staff have had discussions with Apache and TAG, no applications for resource consents have yet been lodged. Indications are that an application is at least one month away. The Council is legally obliged to accept and consider any resource consent applications they receive.
Mr Van Kregten says that a consent application will go through a thorough assessment process under the Resource Management Act. This will include considering whether it should be publicly notified. Council may seek legal and other specialist advice in this process. “We will need to consider the factual environmental effects of the proposed activity”, says Mr van Kregten.
Gisborne District Council will also liaise with Hawke’s Bay Regional Council on that Council’s request for the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment to conduct a study on the likely risks and benefits of oil exploration using hydraulic fracturing on the East Coast.