No penalties for environmental crime | The Jackal

7 Feb 2013

No penalties for environmental crime

Yesterday, the Taranaki Daily News reported:

Two major Taranaki drilling companies have been told to clean up their act, according to two council reports tabled yesterday.

Todd Taranaki Limited McKee Production Station and Todd Taranaki Deep Well Injection were required to lift their performance after the reports found breaches of resource consent.

Samples taken in April 2011 showed an oil discharge in the Mangahewa Stream adjacent to the McKee Production Station, possibly resulting from activities related to the station.

So sampling found that an undisclosed amount of waste oil had polluted the Mangahewa Stream sometime before April 2011 and the company responsible was simply told to clean up its act.

A failure to implement proper penalties is why there's widespread and continued breaches of already liberal consents throughout the Taranaki region by the oil and gas industry.

Testing is also not robust enough and with the industry generally self-regulating, environmental pollution is becoming commonplace.

An oil odour was reported at the time of sampling and stream life was found to have been detrimentally affected.

Director of environmental quality Gary Bedford said the council was continuing to monitor the stream for signs of deterioration and the company had shown improvement. "We are conducting ongoing inspections of the site and they are complying," Mr Bedford said.

The question is how long ago did the spill actually happen for the testing to now be complying with the consent requirements?

It's been a year and ten months since the first samples were taken to the council now declaring that the testing conducted in 2013 complies with the consent requirements, which is a hell of a long time.

The other problem is that the levels of pollutants considered harmful by the Taranaki Regional Council are well above what is scientifically considered harmful.

Another problem is that over half of the Taranaki Regional Council is associated with the oil and gas industry, which means that the extent of damage that has occurred is likely to be undisclosed.

Todd Taranaki Deep Well Injection was issued an infringement notice after the company was late in submitting its written annual report.

Mr Bedford said tardy submission was not permitted by the council as resource consent required delivery of ongoing reports.

"We need information to assure ourselves things are being done properly.

Things are obviously not being done properly... The scant information available through the self-regulation process and a corrupt council that shows continued spills is evidence of that.

Keeping the paperwork up to date is therefore not an indication of how well the industry is being monitored or regulated.... It's no an indication of how much damage has been caused to the environment to date.

"Some information we rely on the company to provide to us, so if they are not doing that we are left in a black hole."

After the company was chased up they subsequently lifted their game, he said.

Lifted their game? How on earth can the council claim that Todd Taranaki has lifted its game when there are continued breaches of consents?

It's clear that the oil and gas industry was only paying lip service to Dr Jan Wright's recommendations in her Interim Report (PDF). I hope the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment considers this latest spill as evidence of a widespread and systematic disregard for proper safety procedures.

The oil and gas industry should not be allowed to continue to self regulate the Taranaki region into an environmental disaster.

Taranaki Regional Council director of resource management Fred McClay