The new report on landfarms commissioned by Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) fails to address critical issues of landfarming: environmental effects and food safety.
In a Radio NZ interview (4 Oct), author of the report, Doug Edmeades claimed that “even if the [consent] limits are exceeded, these petrochemicals are broken down by the bugs in the soil” and there is “no toxicity at all”. In fact, long-chain hydrocarbons (C>9) do not biodegrade easily, hence often exceed the limits. When pressed during the interview, the author acknowledged that it takes years for some petrochemicals to degrade.
Mr Edmeades also claimed that the level of petrochemical residues when animals were put back on pasture was “absolutely zero”. In fact, TRC monitoring (2005-2006) on the Geary landfarm revealed, “Further treatment of hydrocarbons is required” in several areas. Yet the TRC inspector reported in November 2005, “Recent spreading had taken place near the new pits. Stock were grazing the new areas–G32 and G33.”
The 2010-2011 report on the Brown Road landfarm similarly concluded that hydrocarbons for recent disposals did not meet consent limits. Yet in August 2010, the inspector reported, “Grass regrowth for the recent application area looked well established, and bulls were grazing the pasture.”
On the C Boyd landfarm near Inglewood, the inspector reported in April 2010, “Cows were grazing one paddock where muds [drilling wastes] had been applied and were working the mud into the soil nicely with their hoof action.” Not included in Edmeades’ study, this landfarm lies not on coastal sand dunes, but adjacent to Egmont National Park.
The Ministry for Environment imposes stock withdrawal periods following the application of biosolids (e.g. sewage) to land, for risk management. “Why aren’t stock withdrawal periods imposed on operating landfarms? How can animal health and food safety possibly be assured when animals are allowed to graze in areas with contaminant levels above limits?” asked Catherine Cheung, Climate Justice Taranaki.
Edmeades’ report excludes any consideration of environmental effects off-site (e.g. runoff or leaching of contaminants). This severely limits the argument that landfarms are environmentally sound.
Of the dozen or so landfarms in Taranaki, only three completed landfarms were examined. For petroleum residue testing, only eight sets of soil and pasture samples were collected from four sites in total. Considering the size of the farms (e.g. Geary is 30ha) and the variety of wastes they have received (water- and synthetic-based muds, oily wastes and fracking fluids), a substantial number of samples would be required for thorough analysis. As a reference, Canadian Guidelines require a minimum of 10 samples from each ¼ ha plot.
“With a small sample size, no statistical analysis and no information on the types of waste disposed on the sampled sites, conclusions re contamination or soil health are questionable.
The disposal of drilling waste on farms remains an unproven and risky business, with potentially dangerous impacts on food safety and NZ’s largely agricultural-based economy. Its primary purpose is to perpetuate the fossil fuel industry at a time when real opportunities lie in the swift transition to a low carbon economy – one that will sustain rather than destroy our life-supporting climate,” Cheung concluded.
Contact: Catherine Cheung