Landowner information– seismic surveys using explosives and vibroseis

Taranaki Regional Council has granted resource consents non-notified to the landowners for the Turangi survey (Urenui/Onaero/ Tikorangi areas)  and  Tariki survey (Tariki/ Ratapiko areas) for seismic surveys using explosives in December 2020 and February 2021 respectively for approximately 5 years over landowners’ properties. Greymouth Petroleum has applied to the Council for resource consents for the Kaimiro survey (Egmont Village/Inglewood areas).

These resource consents are activated when a landowner signs the Crown Mineral Act access agreement for explosives to be used on their property.  If you do not have explosives on your property there will be no resource consents.

Please read the landowners letter. The relevant documents are listed below with links.

Turangi seismic survey with explosives

Tariki seismic survey with explosives

Kaimiro seismic survey with explosives

Stratford District Council

Seismic testing is a process for mapping where oil and gas is located so it can be drilled and extracted. 

There are two primary ways to carry out seismic testing.  One process involves shot holes drilled between 2-60 metres below the surface. Explosives are placed into the holes and covered over with gravel and soil. Another process is using vibroseis trucks (‘thumper trucks’)which are purpose-built vehicles with a ram-driven shock pad may be used, which strike the surface of the ground to create the shock wave.

The charge from the explosives or the ‘thumper trucks’ 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.

Seismic surveys using explosives have potential issues with undetonated explosives and environmental effects.

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:

  1. The right to have the all of the effects of the activity explained to you in full.
  2. The right to request further information and baseline environmental testing before activities begin.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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. There is a potential risk of  certain 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 specific cases where things do go wrong which Taranaki Energy Watch has been most concerned with. This can occur in the following ways:

Undetonated explosives: We know in the Kapuni seismic survey using explosives in 2016 there was 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 not clear. The Taranaki Regional Council requires resource consent for the explosives and the undetonated charges. The South District Council district plan has standards including a misfire procedure. New Plymouth District Council’s publicly notified proposed district plan also has the same.

Environmental effects: Taranaki Regional Council has identified a number of potential environmental effects with the use of explosives in seismic surveys. These include:

  1. Surface water and groundwater contamination and loss of aquifer pressure. Groundwater could become contaminated from seismic testing as a result of surface runoff entering uncapped or poorly abandoned holes, or during drilling due to losses of drilling muds to fresh water bearing formations.
  2. Associated with the detonation of explosives is a release of energy that may impact upon the surrounding rock strata, water bodies and infrastructure in close proximity to the shot hole. This release of energy could result in leakages from effluent storage facilities, modify the beds of river and streams or impact the integrity of bores used for water supply.
  3. Where artesian conditions are encountered, there is a risk of contributing to the dewatering of groundwater reservoirs and generating surface drainage issues.

Taranaki Regional Council proposed a number of standards for seismic surveys using explosives in their draft Freshwater and Land Management Plan. These are outlined below:

Holes to be capped at surface on the same day that drilling occurs;

There shall be no aquifer cross contamination;

Holes to be abandoned on the same day as detonation and data acquisition;

All drilled holes comply with the following separation distances: 25 metres from any surface water and the coastal marine area; 50 metres from any effluent treatment system, holding pond or septic tank; and 100 metres from any bore or spring used for water supply purposes.

Only water or water-based drilling muds to be used;

Products used to drill and construct the hole must not be a hazardous substance in terms of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996;

Drilling cuttings must be:
(i) removed following detonation and data acquisition; OR
(ii) used for hole abandonment.

The Taranaki Regional Council must be informed that the activity is to occur
at least 15 working days prior to the commencement of drilling.
(i) Within 30 working days of the completion of the activity, the following
information must be submitted to the Taranaki Regional Council:
(i) the total area of the survey;
(ii) the location and depth of shot holes;
(iii) a description of the groundwater resource encountered across the whole
area; and
(iv) the abandonment method applied.

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 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.