Changes to Whangarei Harbour entrance are being proposed

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Making Way for Bigger Cargoes

Refining NZ is proposing changes to Whangarei Harbour entrance and looking closely at the effects of the proposed changes.

Whangarei Harbour is an important resource to many people, and is heavily used for recreation and other purposes.

We believe you should have as much opportunity as possible to hear what we are proposing, why it is important, and be able to respond with your own views.

Why are changes being proposed?

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Same ships… fewer of them

Larger ships that visit the refinery at Marsden Point are capable of carrying bigger cargoes. But they can't get to the refinery fully loaded, because the shipping channel is not deep enough.

With bigger cargoes, fewer ships would need to visit the refinery to deliver the same amount of crude oil.

Aframax: Length 245m / Width 43m / Capacity 700k barrels

Currently bring the majority of crude oil to the refinery.

Suezmax: Length 275m / Width 48m / Capacity 1M barrels

Visit the refinery occasionally, but only partially loaded.

Means fewer ships overall

What changes are proposed?

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Getting fully loaded ships to the refinery

To allow bigger cargoes of crude oil to be brought to the refinery, the refinery is proposing changes to the shipping channel at the entrance to Whangarei Harbour.

What could this mean?

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Keeping jobs in Northland

New Zealand's demand for fuel is met by product made at Marsden Point and fuel imported from overseas.

To keep Marsden Point running - and jobs in Northland - our fuel products need to be of the highest quality and cost competitive with imports.

Bigger cargoes would reduce the cost of transporting crude oil to the refinery

The proposed changes will help us keep pace with imports from increasingly competitive Asian "mega-refineries"

What about safety?

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Keeping our harbour safe for all users

Ensuring that ships to and from the refinery can continue to travel safely on the harbour is extremely important.

Safety measures are already in place and independent experts have carefully considered the effects of the proposed changes.

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Access detailed information and full reports on the proposed changes, prepared by independent experts.

Do I get a say in all this?

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Thank you for your feedback

After extensive studies by independent experts and consultation on our proposal the refinery has lodged a application for resource consent with the regional council.

Consultation with Tangata Whenua, regulatory authorities, community organisations and the general public has added to the picture, and helped identify issues of importance and areas of cultural value or special interest that have needed to be taken into account.

If you have further questions about our proposal, or our resource consent application you can contact us here.

Extensive consultation

The refinery began consulting on the proposal to bring bigger crude cargoes to Marsden Point in 2014. Information about consultation with Tangata Whenua, regulatory authorities, community organisations and the general public - including two rounds of public consultation in March 2015 and April 2017 - is detailed in our resource consent application. You can view the resource consent application in the related downloads section above.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where would the dredging take place?

Two main areas would be dredged – the majority (80%) in the outer shipping channel, with the remainder around the refinery jetties and turning basin (where ships turn as they depart). These two areas are shown on a map here. Some smaller-scale dredging may be required in other parts of the channel.

How deep would the dredging be?

The depth will depend on the location. We expect to dredge up to four metres in the outer and inner shipping channels, and up to eight metres in targeted spots around the refinery jetties. The depth of dredging is shown on a map here

How much dredged material would be removed?

It’s expected that around 3.7 million cubic metres (m3) of sand would be dredged. To put that in context with dredging plans at other New Zealand ports, Port of Tauranga has consent for 15 million m3, and Port Otago for 7.2 million m3.

How long would the dredging process take?

We expect the dredging to take up to six months to complete. Exactly how long will depend on the size of the dredge that is used.

Where would the dredged material be taken?

Most of the dredged material would be relocated to the seabed at a depth of 45 metres south east of Whangarei Harbour. Some of the dredged material would be deposited closer to shore, at depths of up to 15 metres, to replenish sand that has been lost from the ebb tide delta.

Some could be deposited onshore to replenish beach sand or for reclamation. We are currently working through options for land disposal.

How were the disposal sites selected?

The seabed sites have been chosen because of a number of economic and environmental considerations – including impact on the seafloor, matching of sediments with those to be dredged, and in order to minimise any impact on flora and fauna (birds and marine life).

What type of dredging vessels would be used?

For the majority of the dredging it’s likely that a small to medium Trailing Suction Hopper Dredger would be used. For dredging at the refinery jetty it’s likely that a Backhoe Dredger would be used.

When would the proposed changes happen?

If approved, dredging works could be underway in 2019 at the earliest.

Would any further dredging be required in future?

A small amount of maintenance dredging is expected, particularly in the first few years as the slopes on the sides of the channel settle.

What measures are in place to ensure ships continue to travel to and from the refinery safely?

All ship movements (crude and otherwise) are governed by a range of port and harbour safety requirements which are the responsibility of Northland Regional Council, the Harbourmaster, Northport and Maritime NZ.

Every crude ship must have a minimum safe clearance underneath its keel be approved to enter the harbour. At Whangarei, a Dynamic Under Keel Clearance system gathers up-to-the-minute information on wave and weather conditions on the harbour to determine whether it is safe for a ship to enter.

As part of the resource consent process, Refining NZ has commissioned an independent navigation risk assessment, which shows that the new channel design improves safety for crude ships accessing the refinery.

Will there be bigger ships?

No, Suezmax vessels already visit the refinery. However, those vessels currently arrive slightly under-loaded. This proposal is intended to allow those vessels to bring full loads of crude oil.

Can we expect more crude ships if you make it easier for larger crude cargoes to enter the harbour?

No – there will be fewer crude ships overall. The refinery will receive the same amount of crude oil for processing, it will just arrive at Marsden point in bigger sized “parcels”.

Will this increase the risk of an oil spill?

The overall risk is significantly reduced by improving the channel alignment and by fewer ship movements overall.

How would the refinery manage the damage from a spill with more crude on board?

There are measures in place to prevent a major spill occurring in the first place.

Crude ship operators are required to follow stringent safety standards. Ships are double hulled for extra protection, and the cargo is held in compartments so that damage in one part of the hull does not impact the full load.

Hoses and pipes for transporting crude are regularly maintained and tested, and have emergency shut-off valves to stop crude being discharged at the refinery’s jetty.

In the event of a harbour spill the refinery marine team has access to oil recovery and containment equipment and is able to respond quickly. Backup is provided by the refinery’s emergency services team, trained refinery volunteers and where required, the Northland Regional Council oil response team. Maritime NZ would provide further support in a major spill.

Our oil spill response is tested by regular exercises with the Northland Regional Council and Maritime NZ oil response teams.

Is dredging likely to have an impact on the marine reserve or the pipi shoals on Mair and Snake bank?

The refinery is aware of these areas of special interest and for that reason is proposing a channel design option that avoids impacting ecologically sensitive, important landscape or natural character areas.

Extensive field work and hydrodynamic modelling by the independent experts has concluded that the proposed changes will have very little effect on existing coastal processes (waves and tides), and around Mair Bank and in the ebb tide shoal, no discernible effects are expected.

In addition we are proposing real time monitoring to ensure there is no impact on key rocky shore habitats, including the marine reserve and Home Point.

The refinery is proposing a series of measures to mitigate any potential effects. Measures include:

  • Choosing a disposal site for some of the dredged sand that helps prevent future erosion of Mair Bank;
  • Monitoring any potential changes including via an annual survey of the channel, Mair Bank and the wider ebb tide shoal, before and after dredging;
  • Monitoring water turbidity against acceptable limits and responding where necessary, for example, with operational controls on dredging and disposal; and
  • During transportation of dredge material valves on the dredge will remain closed to prevent spillage outside designated dredge and disposal areas.

Are there any alternatives to dredging?

There are two alternatives:

  • Single Point Mooring, where crude ships berth at a mooring point outside of the harbour and crude is transported by underwater pipeline to the refinery. This would be a major project in itself, and likely have a greater impact on the harbour environment.
  • Ship to ship transfer in deep water to transfer the cargo into smaller tankers for final discharge at the refinery.

Either option would require the use of a VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) which carries twice the cargo of a fully loaded Suezmax – and would require much more storage capacity at the refinery.

An assessment of alternatives has been carried out as part of a series of expert studies and can be found here.