Iwi partnership to facilitate the plugging of the Tui oil field


The government team tasked with cleaning up and patching up the abandoned Tui oil field said speaking early with iwi would prevent future roadblocks.

The Ministry of Enterprise, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) had to take over the Tui field after the bankruptcy of its owner Tamarind Taranaki following the failure of a drilling campaign.

The decommissioning of the oil field includes lifting 6,000 tonnes of production equipment for wellheads and pipelines from the seabed and plugging eight wells, and is expected to cost at least $ 155 million.

In March, MBIE signed an agreement with Te Kāhui o Taranaki Iwi, formalizing iwi’s contribution to the project after months of discussions.

MBIE pays Taranaki for an iwi project manager, Fran Davey, and four technical advisors who are iwi members with over a century of combined experience in the oil and gas industry.

Davey said one of the main concerns is to maintain the kaimoana.

“It’s around the protection of the mahinga kai, so for generations to come, there is still kai there, even though it has been inhabited for 12 years by oil production.”

She said the deal allowed Taranaki iwi to see seabed readings before and after dismantling work and helped allay concerns about pollution.

“Not being there before, not knowing what was going on was the concern for iwi and for hapū.”

Davey said being at the table also meant that MBIE was aware of Taranaki iwi’s worldview and could take cultural perspectives into account.

One of the iwi’s technical advisers, Geoff Otene, said that Te Kāhui o Taranaki’s usefulness to MBIE is not limited to cultural advice.

“We have technicians within the iwi who can support MBIE. We are here to support them because we all want a good result, especially a good environment in the future. “

MBIE’s Tui decommissioning project manager Lloyd Williams said Taranaki iwi was involved shortly after the government took over responsibility for the abandoned field in early 2020.

“Our team works a lot on technical solutions and their team provides insight into the cultural, environmental and social implications from an iwi perspective – that’s the balance we’re looking for.”

He said the large vessel used as a floating field production station, the Umuroa, left New Zealand waters last month.

The first lengths of anchor chain that kept the floating production, storage and offloading vessel Umuroa moored above the Tui oil field have been brought to Port Taranaki.

Mark Dwyer / Supplied

The first lengths of anchor chain that kept the floating production, storage and offloading vessel Umuroa moored above the Tui oil field have been brought to Port Taranaki.

MBIE was now working with the iwi to obtain the consent of the Environmental Protection Authority to remove all items from the seabed and plug the wells.

“They will be looking for evidence that we have had meaningful engagement with all interested parties, including iwi.”

He said it wasn’t just the Treaty of Waitangi partnership, but it was also better for the project if concerns were raised early and addressed.

“It means our plans are more robust. It gives us more confidence that we are doing the right thing… rather than going forward with blinders on and then hitting a speed bump.

Geoff Otene said the iwi was unable to secure a job guarantee for iwi and hapū members during decommissioning.

He said that there were many companies and design offices in Taranaki with extensive experience in the industry, but MBIE was using foreign companies.

“I would like to think that the government or the MBIE would ensure that this work is shared with local businesses. I think it was missed for this project… but I think it really needs to be a priority.

Lloyd Williams said the work required equipment only available overseas – including a drilling rig to insert concrete 2,500 meters below the seabed to plug the wells.

But he said once in New Zealand that companies often found it better and cheaper to hire locally, especially during Covid-19 restrictions. Williams says when Umuroa was demobilized, around 170 New Zealanders were employed overseas and another 100 ashore.

“The crew of the boat, the divers, the support boats, the helicopters, these are all New Zealand contracts. So there were something like 27 contracts with New Zealand companies, most of them in New Plymouth. “

Williams said the government sees the project as a model for a deeper partnership with iwi in the industry.

Taranaki Regional Council Resource Management Director Fred McLay said the council encouraged the MBIE to engage with iwi early on and is also watching the decommissioning with interest although the offshore site falls under not his responsibility.

McLay envisioned that a similar engagement process would be used by the council when large projects in the council area, such as the Pohokura gas field and the Maui and Kupe pipelines, were ultimately decommissioned.

“The RMA consent process that we administer certainly pushes us towards an early consultation with the iwi… But there is a bit of work to be done to formalize the process around this – it is a work in progress. “

Next summer, an underwater robot will dive 120 meters to attach lifting equipment to a crane to clear the seabed of the Tui oil field, 50 kilometers offshore.

Williams said the drilling rig would then arrive to inject concrete into the eight wells to plug them, with the field likely finally being abandoned in the summer of 2022-2023.

Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest information service supported by RNZ, the Association of News Editors and NZ On Air.

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