Marsden Point disaster zone | The Jackal

31 Mar 2013

Marsden Point disaster zone

This week, Refining NZ released its annual report (PDF) for 2012. Within that report is a somewhat alarming statement about five breaches of consent at the Marsden Point that the company believes are minor:

Our resource consent has several strict conditions that limit the emission of sulphur dioxide. The main condition limits our yearly average emission of sulphur dioxide to 12 tonnes per day. For 2012 the Company had an average daily emission of sulphur dioxide of 10.88 tonnes per day. Other conditions within the consent make allowances for the Company to discharge at higher rates for limited periods of time due to client disruption, startups and emergency trips. The table above shows that we exceeded the allowance for discharges greater than 40.8 tonnes per day by 2.67 hours.

10.88 tonnes per day is a huge amount of sulphur dioxide to release into the environment. Of course Refining NZ claims that there are no adverse effects, despite the safety data sheet (PDF) showing that sulphur dioxide is a listed toxic substance and can cause severe health problems.

Refining NZ also claims that:

For several years, a comprehensive suite of testing and monitoring activities has been in operation, covering shellfish, soils, marine sediments, water quality, air quality and vegetation. The results of this monitoring continue to demonstrate that there were no significant adverse effects on the environment as a result of Refining NZ’s operations.

This really doesn't tell us much, being that "no significant adverse effects" doesn't discount the fact that there are obviously some adverse effects on the environment. There's no scientific value in such a statement, which fails to properly highlight what creatures are being affected. Clearly there's no proper independent testing being undertaken, and therefore no objective scientific basis for Refining NZ's claim.

The report also outlines problems with flooding whenever there is heavy rainfall leading to increased pollution washing into the ocean. Despite their Environmental Department spending $683,962 in 2012, all the report outlines in the way of protecting the environment is counting 21 Dotterel's in the site and "taking steps to ensure that the nests are protected".

All in all the report gives the once over lightly in terms of Marsden Point's effect on the environment. Despite Refining NZ claiming that there's a "comprehensive suite of testing and monitoring activities" being undertaken, there's no reference to any scientific study to determine the extent of adverse effects. Any data is not publically available, if it exists at all.

Interestingly the report briefly describes a major accident:

In 2012 a manual transfer of petrol component saw a significant loss of product (API Tier 1) from a floating roof tank. As a result improved controls for manual blending and training for operations staff are being put in place.

It appears that there has been no report given to the Northland Regional Council about this event, even though under the American Petroleum Institute's guidelines (PDF), Tier 1 accidents should be publicly notified. The term Tier 1 is used to describe events with the greatest consequences.

Despite being in breach of their consents on numerous occasions throughout 2012, there were no infringement fines imposed. It's also questionable as to whether any procedures have been put in place to ensure similar incidents don't occur again in the future. Instead the council has entirely failed to impose any restrictions or even make recommendations on how best Refining NZ can adhere to their already lenient consents... The incompetent council have also failed to act on their 2007 Marsden Point Air Quality Strategy (PDF), with the amount of complaints doubling in 2012 on the previous year.

Clearly Marsden Point refinery is another blot on our clean and green branding, and one we wouldn't need if the government removed subsidies for the oil and gas industry and ensured that alternative modes of transport were available. That would eventually enable renewable energy to be competitive and ensure most polluting industries were no longer financially viable.

In the mean time we need to see some proper oversight and investigation into the environmental effects from numerous accidents at Marsden Point... Refining NZ must be made to clean up what is essentially an environmental disaster zone in Whangarei.