28 Apr 2010

Archaeological sites can be drilled - council

9:57 pm on 28 April 2010

The South Taranaki District Council says there's nothing in its rules to stop oil companies drilling and doing seismic test blasting on archaeological sites.

The Waitangi Tribunal is in the district hearing claims about the management of the petroleum resource.

The council's planning manager says exploration, prospecting and production testing - including use of explosives - is allowed under its district plan, with no scope for Maori to object.

Blair Sutherland says resource consents are required for work on listed heritage sites but not on registered archaeological sites, which are likely to be of interest to iwi.

He says the council has limited information about waahi tapu sites and therefore limited ability to cater for them.

Mr Sutherland says rules for petroleum are less restrictive than for other industries in the rural zone.

Consents 'more likely' to be approved now

The Taranaki Regional Council told Wednesday's hearing on the Aotearoa marae, near Hawera, that recent changes to the Resource Management Act make consents for oil production facilities more likely to be approved despite any objections.

Resource consents aren't needed in the district for exploration, prospecting or production testing - even on archaelogical sites - so there's no scope for objections.

Once a well proves successful, consents are needed for production and objections can be raised by iwi. But the council's director of resource managment, Fred McLay, says the act now requires previous investment in a site to be taken into account, so the chances of petroleum projects being rejected are considerably less.

Two ways of getting land excluded

The Ministry of Economic Development says Maori have two ways of getting significant land excluded from oil and gas mining.

The ministry's Crown Minerals Group says interested iwi and hapu are given advance notification when the national Minerals Programme for Petroleum is reviewed every 10 years.

The group's manager of petroleum and minerals policy, Rob Robson, says affected Maori can also seek to exclude areas when blocks of land are offered to oil and gas prospectors.

Iwi have told the tribunal the national programme and even the prospecting blocks are too large for all significant areas to be identified, but Mr Robson says iwi are not expected to provide detailed knowledge of waahi tapu.