Dunedin divided over deep-sea oil drilling

WILMA MCCORKINDALE
Last updated 05:00 12/01/2014

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Dunedin is split over the benefits of deep sea oil drilling, as 750 activists plan a blockade of Otago Harbour's commercial shipping channel today.

Texan company Anadarko Petroleum announced last year it was sending its test drill ship, the Noble Bob Douglas, into its southern prospects in the Canterbury basin.

The nearest main centre is Dunedin.

Last week Dutch Shell's joint venture announced its decision to test drill in the Great Southern Basin, off the bottom tip of the South Island.

The Otago Chamber of Commerce sees the operations as Dunedin's second gold rush - but some smaller businesses are not convinced, and activists from around New Zealand have descended on the city this weekend to attend the Oil Free Summit.

Events include an art exhibition, a series of talks from risk, economic and scientific experts, and a planned blockade of Otago Harbour's commercial shipping channel at lunchtime today.

Organiser Niamh O'Flynn of Oil Free Otago says Dunedin was the obvious host for the summit as the next place in New Zealand to face drilling.

"We're expecting a drill rig to arrive in early February. It's us - we're next. I think it's really important the resistance comes from here."

The Chamber of Commerce is eying the $700 million in riches Taranaki has pocketed over the years from the oil and gas finds off the west coast of the North Island. Rising employment figures are being bandied around as well as promises of rocketing economic wealth and prosperity.

"I think it's something we would welcome, absolutely would welcome," says its long-time chief executive John Christie.

"The whole of Dunedin should be doing what it can to encourage the oil companies to make sure we get some benefit to the city."

But Steven Calvert, the owner of city café Nectar, located in the Exchange area, is not convinced a strike would be significant to their pockets.

Calvert is not only sceptical about the environmental impact of drilling, locally and globally, but about the gold rush prediction.

"I mean if it is going to happen anyway, I'd prefer the base to be in Dunedin. But from a financial point of view, it might be, I don't know. My feeling is that the 11,000 jobs it's supposed to create seems to be a little exaggerated . . . and most of that money is going to go to the oil company".

Likewise owner of the Black Rabbit Bakery in the heart of the city's Golden Block shopping centre Shane Ross believed predictions are "overdramatised".

"Dunedin could do with a gold rush but I don't think there's going to be a gold rush. I think it's like anything, there will be influx to a degree but I don't think it will be to the level people are expecting."

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- Sunday Star Times

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