6 Dec 2022

Kupe gas field operations: EPA staying quiet on probe of Beach Energy

3:38 pm on 6 December 2022
The Kupe production facility operated by Beach Energy

The Kupe production facility that is operated by Beach Energy in Taranaki. Photo: Beach Energy

It has emerged that Beach Energy Resources is the subject of an ongoing investigation into its operation at the Kupe gas field off the coast of Taranaki.

The inquiry revealed as part of an Official Information Act request relates to an Environmental Protection Authority inspection of Kupe in 2018.

But the government agency "responsible for regulating activities that affect Aotearoa New Zealand's environment" will not reveal what the investigation involves - arguing it could prejudice the inquiry.

"The EPA conducted an inspection in 2018 that has resulted in an ongoing investigation. We hold two reports relating to the inspection. The reports are withheld under section 6(c) of the OIA. They are directly connected with a process of enforcing the Exclusive Economic Zone Act by ensuring compliance or investigating non-compliance with the EEZ Act [the Exclusive Economic Zone] and associated regulations.

"The making available of the inspection reports prior to conclusion of the investigation would be likely to prejudice the investigation underway."

The EPA has previously said the report would be available in April 2022 but now says the investigation is ongoing.

"The information you have requested is therefore being refused under section 6(c) of the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA), as the making available of the reports prior to conclusion of the investigation would be likely to prejudice the investigation underway."

The EPA is today hearing an application from Beach Energy for resource consents as part of a plan to drill two new development wells at Kupe.

The authority said the application was not affected by the inquiry.

"The EPA is investigating Beach Energy for a matter that is not directly related to its application to drill up to two development wells in the Kupe field in the Taranaki Basin."

Beach Energy is applying for a marine consent and a consent to discharge contaminants.

"The marine consent application is for activities associated with Beach's proposal to drill up to two development wells at the existing unmanned Kupe wellhead using a jack-up mobile offshore drilling unit," the EPA website said.

"The marine discharge consent application is for the discharge of trace amounts of harmful substances from offshore processing drainage [deck drainage system of a jack-up to the sea]."

Consent is sought until 31 December, 2026.

Climate group opposes application

In its submission Climate Justice Taranaki, which made the Official Information Act request, asked that consents be refused because the environmental impact statement was not detailed enough and not enough was known about the cumulative impacts of the drilling and other activities in the South Taranaki Bight on marine species.

It also argued the application breached Te Tiritī o Waitangi by failing to provide active protection, duty of care and public trust of Māori interests including tāonga and tikanga-based customary rights and interests.

Ngāti Manuhiakai hapū believed the consents could be granted as long as conditions outlined in its cultural impact assessment were adopted.

"We seek to ensure the role of tikanga in the process is understood and reflected into this process on an on-going basis and for the duration of these consents," the Ngāruahine hapū said in its submission.

An independent board of inquiry will consider the consents application over two days in New Plymouth.

Climate Justice Taranaki will present a petition against the granting of consents at the hearing.

RNZ has contacted Beach Energy for comment.