No penguins were harmed in the making of this case – but only by luck
eNZoil (NZ) Ltd has been convicted and fined for discharging between 5000 and 6000 litres of refined transformer oil from their operation into the stormwater network and subsequently Seaview Marina.
Greater Wellington Regional Council laid charges against the company, which takes waste transformer oil and refines it into a useable product, for the incident which happened on the 17 and 18 March 2019. eNZoil appeared before Judge Dwyer in the Wellington District Court today and was fined $90,000 for the discharge.
In passing sentence the Judge commented that the discharge was a result of gross negligence and significant failures in process, saying ”given the proximity to the marina and the direct connection to the stormwater system, they should have been aware of the risks; processes should have be undertaken with the highest degree of care.”
The discharge occurred as a result of a series of process failures, including not closing a valve on a bund which should have contained any spill. The oil, despite being refined, is still toxic to aquatic life.
In deciding on the level of fine the Judge listened to defence submissions and Greater Wellington submissions on how serious the offending was and what the aggravating and mitigating factors were.
Of particular note was the potential effects on wildlife (no penguins were harmed - as it was after breeding season) and the effects on amenity for the marina, including odour and the fouling of boats.
The Judge acknowledged that eNZOil was an environmental and sustainability focused organisation, taking a waste product and making it reusable. He stated, “with this spill there was the potential for significant adverse ecological effects which were only avoided by good luck.”
eNZoil participated in the oil spill clean-up operation which involved GWRC Harbours and Environmental Protection staff, Hutt City Council Officers and the Marina.
“It is important that all businesses assess the risks of discharging harmful substances to the stormwater network”, said council Environmental Regulation Team Leader, James Snowdon.
“The majority of sites have drainage systems that lead directly to streams or the sea without any treatment. In these instances only rainwater should be entering the network. Operators should plan carefully and if they don’t understand the regulatory requirements, seek advice. We would rather be advising people on how to avoid and minimise impacts on the environment than taking them to court.”