Five days were set aside to hear an appeal by Taranaki Energy Watch (TEW) against the proposed rules (in the District Plan) relating to oil and gas exploration and production activities to be adhered to by the South Taranaki District Council. Also involved (in support of STDC) are New Plymouth District Council, the Stratford District Council, the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand (PEPANZ) and Federated Farmers.

The first session began on Monday March 19 and the concluding one was scheduled for Friday 23 March. The presiding judge was Jane Borthwick, assisted by two Environment Commissioners Jim Hodges and James Baines. The appeal was originally filed in 2016 by TEW, aided by a grant of $40,000 from the Ministry for the Environment, as well as a similar amount raised by the group’s fundraising initiatives. Spokesperson for TEW Sarah Roberts has expressed her gratitude for the support her group have received, financial, expert and otherwise.

The opening submissions were delivered by STDC’s Matt Conway and he was also representing the other local governmental bodies named earlier.

Rob Enright was the lawyer representing TEW. Submissions were also made by Richard Garner representing Federated Farmers and David Allen representing the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand (PEPANZ).

TEW’s appeal includes opposition to seismic surveys using explosives and landfarming being a permitted activity with no controls, support for prohibited status for oil and gas activities in residential and township zones, as well as support of adequate separation distances to ensure the health and safety of people in the vicinity. The group have raised objection to such practices as fracking (hydraulic fracturing) in the proximity of residences and

The first day involved much discussion on the clarification of terms and practices, with many questions raised by Judge Borthwick, Mr Hodges and Mr Baines.

On Tuesday March 20 the Judge and commissioners spent the day visiting various sites of oil and gas activities in Taranaki, including wellsites and an operating rig, production stations and landfarms.

The remainder of the hearing mostly involved the testimony of expert witnesses on both side of the appeal. Ms Polich representing TEW and Ms Phillis representing PEPANZ gave evidence on risk. Mr Comben, Acting Team Leader and Principal Specialist Hazardous Substances from WorkSafe, called as an independent witness by TEW. On Friday the Judge stated that the Court would have to reconvene to hear the remainder of the witnesses and the closing addresses from the legal counsel. The timing of the hearing is to be confirmed.