Friction grows over fossil-fuels policy

A rapidly growing political storm over whether New Zealand should continue to search for fossil fuels is focusing on Taranaki.

While the Government uses the region as the shining example of how the country's natural resources can be safely mined, opposition organisations claim the risks are too great and could prove catastrophic for the country's economy and environment.

In latest developments this week:

The Government has attacked opposition parties, particularly the Greens, accusing them of intellectual dishonesty over the issue.

Greenpeace has delivered a 142,000-signature petition calling on the Government to abandon its fossil fuels agenda.

Anti-fossil fuel mining organisation Climate Justice Taranaki has announced a "Taranaki Dirty-As Regional Fracking Tour" on Saturday, using a bus to take attendees on a tour around the region.

The Government campaign began at the National Party's annual conference at the weekend, where Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said the opposition parties were beneath contempt because they wanted to slow down New Zealand's development for their own political ends.

At the conference, Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley said the continuing world demand for oil and gas provided New Zealand with a major economic development opportunity.

Latest assessments showed future royalty income from known oil and gas reserves - all of which were in Taranaki - was estimated at $3.2 billion, and that this could rise to $12.7b via a 50 per cent increase in exploration.

"So the responsible development of our oil, gas and mineral resources has the potential to create additional skilled jobs, earn substantial royalty and tax returns, and contribute to the future prosperity that will encourage people to stay in New Zealand," he said.

Yesterday, Mr Heatley also lashed out at environmental organisations such as the Greens and Greenpeace, accusing them of scaremongering.

"The scenarios they paint are always catastrophic and extreme, and not at all based on the actual New Zealand experience," he said in an interview with the Taranaki Daily News.

"It's simply dishonest.

"Look at Taranaki - it has had an oil and gas industry for more than 100 years and has a tremendously good record. The rest of New Zealand should be looking at Taranaki as an excellent example of what can be achieved, rather than listen to the scaremongers."

But just a few hours later Greens energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes presented the Greenpeace petition at Parliament. And at the same time, Greenpeace NZ senior climate campaigner Simon Boxer claimed the message behind the petition was one the Government could not ignore.

“Well over 100,000 New Zealanders have given a definite ‘no' to deep sea oil, and to any expansion of the coal industry.

"Instead they've said they want their energy to come from clean, renewable sources, that don't come with the risk of either a catastrophic oil spill, or runaway climate change," he said.

The costs of ignoring clean energy alternatives would not only be environmental, Mr Boxer said.

"The Government's fossil fuel agenda is causing New Zealand to miss out on billions of dollars of clean energy contracts and thousands of jobs. To ignore the financial opportunities for New Zealand arising from the global clean energy revolution, that last year was worth more than US$250b, is nothing short of economic mismanagement."

Climate Justice Taranaki issued its own strongly-worded statement supporting the Greenpeace petition. "The Government's short-sighted plans to ‘save' our economy from bankruptcy by plundering future generations' natural resources is helping push the planet to the brink of unstoppable climate chaos," it said.

The Parihaka-headquartered organisation admitted Taranaki received "some" benefits from the fossil fuel industry.

"But we have also suffered four oil spills, well and pipe blowouts, polluted rivers, possible contamination from fracking, and several deaths from accidents," it added.

"The industry is rapidly expanding but there is not enough protection for our communities."

Saturday's bus tour will be a guided tour of Taranaki's "poorly regulated, mismanaged and non-compliant oil and gas production and disposal sites," the organisation said.

"Learn the truth behind our region's low environmental performance and what local politicians don't want you to know.

"Find out from residents what it's really like living next to gas wells and toxic flares burning day and night."

Taranaki Daily News