A decision by Gisborne District Council to give the green light to Canadian company TAG Oil for an exploratory well to be drilled west of Gisborne city has been condemned by an RMA Commissioner.
Manu Caddie, who is also a Gisborne District Councillor, says he is supporting an application for a judicial review of the decision based on the public interest test, cumulative effects and the way potential cultural impacts have been handled in the assessment phase.
“Two thousand local residents signed a petition last year requesting any application to drill in the district be publicly notified. All they want is a chance to look into the application and make submissions if they have concerns.”
The Council’s Regional Policy Statement and Combined Regional and District Plan are largely silent on drilling activities and the Council has agreed to review the plan once the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment issues her report on fracking later this year.
“The PCE in her interim report on fracking raised a number of real concerns about drilling on the East Coast and the lack of regulation in the petroleum industry as a whole” said Mr Caddie. “Until those concerns are addressed the public should have the right to examine applications and comment on them.”
“An industry representative said just last week that they have nothing to hide, so why are they afraid to give our community the opportunity to be part of the decision-making process.”
Mr Caddie said he understood the company had threatened to leave the district if the application was publicly notified and comments from vested interests meant staff felt pressure to let the application go through non-notified. “I’m sure everyone will deny that is the case, but this is what staff have told me.”
Mr Caddie said it was a sad day for the district and democracy. “The petition of 2,000 citizens must be the largest set of submissions Council has received on a single issue and it is bitterly disappointing that a simple request to have the opportunity to make comments at a public hearing – for or against the proposal – has been seen as less important than the desire of the company to rush into drilling.
Mr Caddie said he believed Council had good grounds to notify the application – while the risk of significant immediate pollution may be limited to a well explosion like the one that happened in the United States last month or limited contamination of land and streams, the cumulative effects of the activity should be taken into account at each stage and the RMA allows for public notification when the risk may be small but the potential effects significant if something goes wrong.
“There is scant information in the application on the process for rehabilitating the site while industry publications suggest at least half of all wells corrode within 30 years allowing fugitive emissions of gas and oil, long after they have ceased production. The area is around known fault lines and aquifers, who knows what impact drilling into those could have.”
The documentation provided with the Council decision suggests one or two individuals within local iwi had signed off on behalf of the tribe with no evidence of hui-a-iwi to provide a mandate or majority of iwi members’ endorsement.
“Iwi and hapū have a right under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, New Zealand law and international agreements to make free, prior and informed decisions on activities that impact on their traditional lands, waterways and air space. From the information supplied I can’t see evidence of that happening in this situation and a number of iwi members have expressed extreme frustration with the process used by the company to consult with iwi.“
Mr Caddie said central government should provide much more support and resources to iwi and hapū that are faced with extractive industries moving into their area.
“Around the world we have seen indigenous peoples welcome industries that make grand promises then leave after ruining the environment local peoples have depended on for generations. It is a familiar story we are seeing played out in our own backyard.”
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Gisborne District Council: Decision Documents
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CONTACT: Manu Caddie – Tel. 0274202957 / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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