The New Plymouth District Council (NPDC) announced yesterday that the council will be implementing a “locked gate” policy on Taranaki’s landfarms and other farms where oil/gas wastes have been buried (mix-bury-cover sites). In effect, such contaminated land cannot be used for stock grazing or other forms of food production until the district council has conducted the necessary testing and given its clearance. This NPDC decision is a significant step towards enforcing the National Environment Standard for Assessing and Managing Contaminants in Soil to Protect Human Health (NES CS, 2012).
Climate Justice Taranaki (CJT) believes that council’s decision has vindicated its concerns and argument (for the last few years) that the dumping of oil/gas waste and food production should not go together. It has also demonstrated that “regulators are scrambling to catch up with” the rapidly expanding oil/gas industry, as pointed out by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE)’s finding in her “Drilling for oil and gas” report (June 2014).
While CJT remains opposed to the disposal of petrochemical wastes on farmlands, the council’s decision to act on the NES CS is a step in the right direction. It makes it clear to everyone, especially existing and prospective landowners, whether a piece of land is or has been contaminated – crucial information that could affect land value and future land use (e.g. organic farming).
We fully expect that all district councils will apply the NES CS on all land that has been used for oil and gas activities, including landfarms, mix-bury-cover sites as well as well sites which have had consents to discharge contaminants to land and nearby waterways.
It should make farmers and landowners think twice before opening their gates for oil/gas drilling and waste disposal, considering the loss of farm productivity and potential drop in property value.
It could also help reassure consumers that the produce (milk, meat, crops) they purchase has not been grown on contaminated land.
However, this would hinge on the standards and criteria set for determining acceptance levels of contamination, as well as the completeness and quality of the testing to be conducted. Independent testing that is thorough and statistically robust would be crucial to provide such assurance.