Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand (PEPANZ) Chief Executive Cameron Madgwick said, “landfarming is nothing more than taking the ground-up rocks, mud and minerals left over from drilling activities and recycling them by placing them underneath the topsoil.”
Unfortunately, the facts tell a different story. As Climate Justice Taranaki Inc. (CJT) pointed out at the public hearings on the Proposed South Taranaki District Plan, the euphemistically termed ‘landfarming’ is actually the spreading of contaminated oil/gas wastes on farmland, and mostly on the coast in South Taranaki.
“By avoiding unpleasant words like ‘carcinogenic, heavy metals and toxic waste disposal’, and using relatively benign words like ‘rocks, mud and recycling’, the industry wants us to believe that it is a good thing to use farmland for disposal of contaminated wastes that the industry generates,” says Catherine Cheung, CJT Researcher.
Compliance monitoring by the Taranaki Regional Council reveals a wide range of contaminants that can be expected on a landfarm, including heavy metals (e.g. Arsenic, Chromium, Mercury), BTEX (Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, Xylene) and PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons). All are toxic to humans and livestock at low concentrations. Some cause cancer.
At WRS Manawapou landfarm, elevated levels of benzene and toluene were detected in the groundwater near one storage pit in 2014, breaching the resource consent. At BTW Oeo landfarm, trace levels of benzene and elevated salinity were recorded in one monitoring bore. At Waikaikai landfarm, the total dissolved salts in groundwater under one spreading area was more than double the consented limit. At least one site, BTW Vanner landfarm in Kakaramea, has received drilling wastes from the East Coast, as other councils have wisely not allowed landfarming in their districts.
CJT emphasized at the hearings that NZ’s regulations are far laxer than international standards. E.g. The acceptable soil endpoints for benzene (1.1-6.7mg/kg) recommended by MfE, MPI and Landcare are orders of magnitude higher than those required in Alberta (0.046-0.073mg/kg), Canada.
Crucially, while short chain hydrocarbons readily biodegrade, longer chain hydrocarbons and heavy metals are typically persistent – a reason why only one-time disposal of petroleum wastes is allowed on landfarms. Furthermore, because of the potential harm to neighbours, the Canadian government requires a 500 metres minimum setback between homes and landfarms. Yet the South Taranaki District Council proposes landfarming to be a ‘Permitted’ activity in the Rural Zone, not even requiring a landuse consent.
“The one-time disposal restriction means that the oil/gas industry will always need more land to dispose of their toxic wastes for as long as they drill new wells or rework old wells to continue production. In 2013, Fonterra announced that they would not accept milk from new landfarms. So what has the industry in mind for the coastal land that has supposedly become more ‘productive’ as a result of landfarming?
To date, there is no research to demonstrate that meat or crops produced from such land is safe. Given the variable range and toxicity of wastes, such research would need to be ongoing and likely be prohibitively costly. And what would such produce be worth, with the ever more stringent demand for assured quality? Is spreading contaminated wastes on farms the smartest way of using our valuable yet vulnerable coastal area, at a time when extreme weather events are becoming more frequent? Shouldn’t we be investing in coastal protection instead?” says Cheung.