Auckland waterfront polluted by Mobil | The Jackal

20 Aug 2013

Auckland waterfront polluted by Mobil

Today, the NZ Herald reported:

A petrol company says it should not have to pay clean-up costs for decades of petrochemical pollution on prime waterfront land.

The civil case by the Auckland Waterfront Development Agency against Mobil Oil New Zealand began in the High Court at Auckland yesterday before Justice Sarah Katz.

The agency claims Mobil is liable for $17.9 million in clean-up costs for two sites in Wynyard Quarter, part of the former tank farm.

The sites were used by Mobil or related companies for petrochemical storage and more recently other bulk chemicals and lubricants.

This is typical of Mobil who is known internationally for damaging the environmental and then fighting tooth and nail through the courts to not have to pay for the clean up.

Mobil vacated the sites in 2011, and Waterfront Auckland plans to redevelop the area with parks, apartments, shops and commercial premises.

Both parties agree the site is now significantly polluted but disagree on the contamination's source and Mobil's liability for the clean-up.

What's the bet that the taxpayer will end up having to pay.

One of the main issues here is that the 'significantly polluted' soil won't be will simply be dug up and moved somewhere else to potentially be an environmental hazard in the future.

Some of the pollution comes from fill material used when the land was originally reclaimed, including waste from the old Auckland gas works.

Agency counsel Alan Galbraith, QC, said it was seeking remediation costs only for Mobil's contamination, not for the gas works' waste.

Mr Galbraith said the case hinged on new leases signed in 1985, when the new pipeline from Marsden Pt to Wiri was commissioned and oil companies were expected to progressively pull out of the tank farm.

Those leases expired in 1993, but Mobil and Ports of Auckland were unable to agree on new terms relating to site remediation, so the leases continued on a periodic basis under existing terms until 2011.

So why are we only just finding out about this now? With the site being significantly polluted surely it shouldn't take ten years before something is done about it.

That's ten years whereby contaminants were likely to be leaching into Waitemata Harbour and ten years when people could have been adversely affected from being inadvertently exposed to the contamination. There certainly weren't signs warning the public or adequate fencing to keep them out.

The 1985 leases, unlike earlier versions, included a clause related to keeping the land clean and tidy.

Mr Galbraith said that meant Mobil was obligated to return the land "in good condition and that means free of contamination".

Even if there was no clause within the lease that stated the land should be clean and tidy upon it's return, Mobil is still obligated to clean up their pollution.

For Mobil, Michael Ring, QC, said there was no breach of the tenancy contract, and the company was not liable for costs. He said the "clean and tidy" clause was never intended to require Mobil to remove historic sub-surface contamination.

Firstly, Mobil will need to prove that any of the sub-surface contamination wasn't caused by them or their subsidiary companies during any of the lease periods. If they cannot do that conclusively, they should be made to pay for the sites remediation.

Mr Ring said that in 1985 it was not envisioned the site would be used for anything other than heavy industry.

It was already heavily contaminated from reclamation fill, which included lead, arsenic and cyanide pollution. "This was not a pristine green meadow that somehow has been destroyed by sub-surface contamination." APNZ

Whether the site wasn't intended to be lived on or that there was already some pollution before Mobil started to contaminate the area is beside the point. There simply is no excuse for continued spills of hazardous materials, especially in a built up area such as Auckland. Just because the area was designated heavy industry doesn't mean Mobil can pollute to its hearts content.

Along with remediation costs, I would slap the dirty bastards with a hefty fine as well. After all, there are laws that pertain to polluting New Zealand with petrochemicals, but unfortunately they're hardly ever applied.