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New Zealand: FCE grilled over oil spills

Source: Daily News Publication date: Apr 19, 2000

EXPLORATION company [Fletcher Challenge Energy] yesterday promised to carry out an environmental survey of the North Taranaki coastline, to establish a benchmark in the event of future offshore oil spills.

The promise was made by FCE's New Zealand general manager Rick Webber at a community briefing in New Plymouth yesterday, during which the heat went on him over three oil spills off the coast at Motunui earlier this month.

Several people at the meeting went on to the offensive, obviously rankled by Mr Webber's claim that the amount of oil that went into the water was equivalent to not much more than could be carried in a car's petrol tank, and that there was "absolutely no long-term damage to the environment as a result of these incidents.

"If you were to walk along the coastline, it would be clear there was no contamination," he said.

But one man strongly disputed that, claiming that while he was cleaning up globules of oil from the coastline, he picked up dead sea life.

"One dead crab reeked of contamination. That's our kaimoana there. Yet you haven't even tested the coastline to see if there has been any damage. Why can't you get it tested?," he said.

Another man then asked Mr Webber if he considered any oil spill to be serious. Mr Webber said he did.

"So you've just had three serious oil spills?," he was asked.

"Absolutely," he replied.

Mr Webber added that he accepted that FCE should undertake a "stocktake" to establish the condition of the coastline. "That way we would know with certainty what the beach should look like, and what it does look like. I accept that it behoves us to do that baseline audit."

Earlier in the briefing, Mr Webber said that during testing of the Pohokura-1 exploration well, 4.5km off the coast, earlier this month, there were oil spills into the sea on three occasions.

"We very much regret that it happened, and we have conducted our own investigations aimed at ensuring it never happens again. Having said that -- and in no way attempting to belittle the fact that the spills did happen -- the amount that spilled into the sea was a maximum of 55 litres, which is about as much as you can fit into a car's petrol tank.

"It was not as if there were fish and birds rolling on the foreshore in black muck. That was simply not the case."

He explained that the spillages occurred during the start-up phases for flaring of the well.

"When you test a well, you first need to clean up. That means the well produces non-combustible materials such as drilling mud, brine and salty water during a transition period to a full flare. There's a period of splutter -- and that's when some uncombustible liquid fell into the sea.

"I can assure you all that we have put in place measures to mitigate the effects of that happening again."

In a media release, Mr Webber said that in future FCE would have in place a holding tank between the well bore and the flare burn to ensure the well was thoroughly cleaned and only contained hydrocarbons.

FCE had passed its report to the Taranaki Regional Council, the release said.

TRC director of resource management Bill Bayfield said the council was carrying out its own investigation, and a preliminary report would be ready for a committee meeting on April 26.

Its full report would probably be finished for the committee's June meeting, he said.

The possibility of enforcement action against FCE would be looked at, because the spills were unauthorised and unnotified discharges, he said.

"We are certainly not ready yet to make any statement (at this stage)." --------------------

Publication date: Apr 19, 2000 ) 2000, NewsReal, Inc.

-- Carl Jenkins (, April 19, 2000

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