Seismic testing is a process for mapping where oil and gas is located so it can be drilled and extracted.
There are a number of ways to carry out seismic testing. Some are more intrusive to people and the environment than others. One process involves shot holes drilled 8-14m below the surface. Explosives are placed into the holes and covered over with gravel and soil.
The charge from the explosives sends vibration waves into the earth which reflect off rock formations. This is captured by geo-phones on the surface and sent to a central location where the data is reviewed. This is the way seismic testing is currently carried out in Taranaki.
An alternative and less intrusive way is to use ‘thumper’ (vibroseis) trucks. These trucks contain a large plate in the center of the truck which is lowered to the ground. The weight of the truck is placed on the plate and shock waves are sent through the ground in order to collect data about the subsurface.
Do landowners have to allow seismic testing with explosives on their property? NO.
We have set out the rules around access to land and landowner and occupiers rights more fully in the law section. However, in brief oil and gas is owned by the Crown but you own your land. The Crown Minerals Act 1991 governs the granting of permits to companies to explore for oil and gas. Companies have to negotiate with landowners and occupiers for access to their property. A landowner and occupier can refuse access even if a company holds a permit. Under the Crown Minerals Act you have the following rights:
- The right to have the all of the effects of the activity explained to you in full.
- The right to request further information and baseline environmental testing before activities begin.
- The right to request further conditions, including monitoring, buffer zones, times for access, type of access (ie the types of vehicles, how many and who are accessing your property and from where).
- The right to have legal representation during negotiations. NOTE: the company attempting to gain access to your property must pay your legal fees in negotiating access.
- The right to refuse access to your land altogether. If this happens, the company can ask that access to your property be determined by an arbitrator. Only with your consent can the arbitrator determine the access arrangement. If you refuse, the company must then ask the Governor General to review the matter and where access is seen as in “the public good” then the Governor General can give an arbitrator the right to determine the arrangement. We do not know of any case where this has happened yet.
Negotiating access agreements, or refusing access can be an intimidating experience, especially where you are unfamiliar with the industry, its effects and its practices. Part of TEW’s role is trying to connect farmers with alternative avenues of information and with a support network so that you can talk to other farmers and hear their experience with negotiating with oil and gas. Please get in touch if you would like further information or to speak to someone else who has had a similar experience.
What are the down sides of allowing the seismic testing company to collect seismic data?
There are some things you should take into consideration with seismic surveys using explosives. Even though they are less likely there is a potential risk of one off occurrences that could create long term harm to your property.
You are likely to experience and feel the vibrations and the sound of explosives going off. You will also have to deal with the companies accessing your property. For some farmers, typically organic farmers this can be an issue if vehicles are moving soil from one farm to another without proper wash down and management plans to protect the integrity of the organic farm and its status. Other farmers have also found that the number of cars and vehicles accessing the property has been problematic for milking and other farm operations.
However it is the one off cases where things do go wrong which Taranaki Energy Watch has been most concerned with. This can occur in two main ways:
- Undetonated explosives: We know in the most recent seismic test there have been several properties impacted by undetonated explosives. The explosives on these properties can no longer be detonated and will remain in the ground until they biodegrade, requiring monitoring for several years. The time it takes for such explosives to biodegrade is unspecified. The Taranaki Regional Council requires resource consent for both the survey and the undetonated explosives. District Councils record participation in a seismic survey and undetonated explosives on the property’s LIM reports.
- Contamination and impacts to groundwater: The explosives can contain Pentolite, which is a mixture of Trinitrotoluene (TNT) and Pentaerythrivol Tetra Nitrate (PETN). Pentolite is listed as a class one explosive by WorkSafe and requires a license. Licenses for explosives including TNT (1.1D) and PETN (1.1B) are listed for the Taranaki area on the WorkSafe explosives register. Both PETN and TNT are also listed as synthetic materials by the USA EPA and are known to cause contamination of groundwater. Under the Taranaki Regional Plan, explosives must be located at least 100m from any water sources, bores or streams. However, there have been a number of instances where explosives have gone off much closer to water sources and retrospective resource consents have been granted. There is a real concern that if explosives are let off too close to a water bore that your groundwater can be permanently compromised.
Finally, you must consider the long term impacts of seismic testing. If seismic testing is successful then the companies will be coming back and requesting access to your property for exploration and potentially production meaning the permanent placement of a well site and production facilities on your land. It is much easier to refuse access at this stage rather than after an oil and gas company has successfully found oil and gas on your property.
What if you are approached by a seismic testing company or have signed an agreement to allow seismic testing on your property? What should you do?
If you are approached to sign an access agreement you will be asked to sign an access agreement for access to your property for the period of seismic testing. This access agreement is usually only one page and is usually very sparse in information and the protections for you. It may include a map of where the seismic shot holes will be placed in your property.
It is TEW’s advice that you do not sign this access agreement or at least have it reviewed by an experienced environmental lawyer before you sign. A lawyer can draft a seismic testing agreement with specific protections for you. Some of the items that need to be considered when doing seismic testing would include the following:
- Contact your regional and district council and request information relating to the RMA requirements of the seismic surveys specifically environmental and health and safety matters.
- What is your property being used for? If there is farming, livestock or other operations going on, these must be protected. If the property is leased, the tenants rights need to be considered and protected.
- Are there buildings and/ or water sources on your property? If so, setbacks will need to be established and provisions made for the protection of the buildings and water sources.
- Will the seismic testing be done through the use of shot holes with explosives or thumper trucks? The type of seismic testing and the location needs to be specified.
- When will seismic testing occur? A date and time need to be established. An expiration date for the seismic testing should be specified. You should also received advance notice of the testing.
- When the seismic testing is done, what repair or remediation of your property will need to be done? The property should be returned to the condition it was in prior to the seismic testing.
- What happens if damage or injury occurs as a result of the seismic testing? The seismic testing company should be insured and should indemnify you against all loss or liability. There should be an indemnification clause in your agreement with the seismic testing company.
- What will you be paid for allowing permission to do seismic testing on your property.
Ensure what you are being told is correct information. Do not sign over the kitchen table. Get an experienced environmental lawyer to review your access agreement. Think about the long terms impacts to your farm and your family. Contact TEW and talk to others who have experience with the oil and gas industry.