By Tova O’Brien
3 News can reveal hundreds, potentially thousands of cubic metres of soil have been contaminated by toxic chemicals at a gas field in Taranaki.
Six well sites at the Kapuni gas field south of New Plymouth used unlined pits in the earth to store and burn off chemicals from operations, including hydraulic fracturing.
And the company was sometimes doing so without the required council consent.
Kapuni is the oldest gas field in the country. For decades the normal practice was to use unlined pits to store and burn off chemicals and sludge from the wells.
Six well sites are contaminated. Soil from one had to be transported recently to a waste treatment plant in Wellington to be stabilised.
That was the worst 50 cubic metres - all up 300 cubic metres had to be removed. And there are five more sites yet to be cleaned.
Green Party energy spokesman Gareth Hughes says it is a problem.
“The contamination's mostly from the range of BTEX chemicals from old hydrocarbons, but it's because of the absolutely shoddy practice of storing the stuff in unlined earthing pits.”
Shell Todd, which owns Kapuni, had resource consent to use the unlined pits during the initial exploration.
The fact it continued to use the pits for over a decade had not been consented to, when the Taranaki Regional Council’s Gary Bedford says it should have been.
“Yes it's a concern in hindsight that there was this practice.”
One pit was used as recently as February last year to store hydraulic fracturing fluid.
Fracking is when water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the earth, and it may have contributed to the contamination.
“Under some circumstances some fracturing may have contributed,” Mr Bedford says.
However this is contrary to what Energy Minister Phil Heatley has said about fracking in Taranaki in recent months.
“It's been done very, very well, there have been no environmental effects whatsoever.”
And today, following his opening address at the Petroleum Summit which was interrupted by a protest, Mr Heatley tempered his view on fracking.
“It's been reasonably-well managed, there haven't been significant incidences.”
So the Government has re-assessed its view of fracking in Taranaki from "done very, very well" to "reasonably-well managed".
The council there says this isn't a widespread problem, but there is longstanding contamination which is only being dealt with now.