26 Sep 2012

Mixed feelings about Taranaki oil discovery

10:09 pm on 26 September 2012

British oil and gas exploration company Kea Petroleum has discovered one of its Taranaki sites has enough oil to make extraction commercially viable.

Production is likely to begin at the plant near Eltham in 2013, once a second, larger well is drilled.

While it is being welcomed by the company and the South Taranaki District Council, some locals are not happy.

Kea Petroleum has been a minor player in the Taranaki oil and gas industry for the past few years.

The announcement that exploration at their Puka 1 site near Eltham has been successful marks a step change for the company.

It will move from an exploration company to a production one, with their stated aim to turn the discovery into cash flow as soon as possible.

David Robinson, chief executive of New Zealand's Petroleum Exploration and Production Association, says it is great news for the local economy.

"This just continues to boost the Taranaki economy, it's great to see these discoveries and more people employed there when New Zealand so desperately needs this employment."

Ross Dunlop, mayor of the South Taranaki District Council, is delighted by the find, saying while it is only a small well at this stage, it all adds up to work in the region's favour.

"That cements Taranaki as the energy province. There's been actually a lot of successful wells drilled in recent times and it just goes to show that Taranaki has a wonderful resource and there's still more to be found."

However, one local couple say that another small well is just adding to the number already in their district and it is overwhelming the area.

Sarah Roberts and David Morrison live about 10km from Kea Petroleum's Puka sites. Ms Roberts says the relatively small size is of no comfort for people living close by.

"What we've got all around us is lots and lots of companies starting up or who have been here for a while rapidly expanding in small areas ... it just feels like it is expanding while there is still no surety around how safe it is."

Ms Roberts says one of her main concerns is about how the industry is regulated. She believes regional council reports gloss over potential environmental problems and says the industry needs stricter rules.

"My understanding is that the regulators and the regulations are not keeping pace with this industry. It's like their self-regulating themselves. It's like the oil industry is telling our council what they're doing after they've done it."

Kea Petroleum says the industry is already highly regulated and it operates to high standards with regards to its environmental responsibilities.

Mayor Ross Dunlop agrees. "I think most people appreciate the benefits of the oil and gas industry. Everyone believes that it has to be done in an environmentally responsible way and I believe that it is."

But Sarah Roberts remains deeply concerned for her family and neighbours. She says she will continue asking questions about the oil and gas companies in Taranaki until she receives an answer that allays her fears.