Oil and gas exploration: ‘Priority action’ recommendation on disused wells not followed through
The government is being taken to task for failing to act on a 2017 report that found more than 100 ‘orphan oil and gas wells’ around the country had not been properly decommissioned.
Released to RNZ under the Official Information Act, the Petrofac report says the onshore wells “represent an unknown risk to health and safety, and the environment” and that some had the “potential to flow oil or gas to the surface”.
But the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment, which commissioned the report, says none of the most at-risk wells is leaking and there is no “immediate danger to personnel or the environment”.
Orphan wells are those that have been abandoned, have no current permit holder and have outstanding plugging and decommissioning commitments.
The Petrofac report identifies 104 in total, 14 of which it said needed “priority action”.
It said six, for which there was good data, had “the potential to flow oil or gas to surface if they are not properly abandoned”.
Four of these were drilled near Wairoa by Westech Energy New Zealand, which suspended its drilling operations between 1998 and 2007.
Petroleum Exploration and Production Association spokesperson Phil Rennie said it was disappointing that Westech – which removed its New Zealand listing from the Companies Office in 2015 – had not decommissioned the Wairoa wells correctly.
“Under the law companies are responsible for properly decommissioning their wells and by and large that is what happens. Over time there are some historic sites where issues arise no one was aware of, but by and companies are responsible and that is what happens.”