It's time for the truth about drilling

Last updated 05:00 08/05/2012

Deep sea oil drilling protesters hold hands during their protest on Tahunanui Beach, Nelson in 2011

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There is no doubt the oil and gas industry has been a topic of great discussion in New Zealand in recent months.

Protests, Facebook pages, Twitter updates, websites – opposing deepsea oil drilling, hydraulic fracturing and even seismic testing.

As a representative of the oil and gas industry I have heard it all. So first I want dispel a few mistruths.

  • The oil and gas industry isn't anti-environment, pro-oil spills, earthquakes or water pollution.
  • We're not faceless foreigners and in fact are either Kiwi by birth or by choice.
  • You won't wake up tomorrow morning to find oil rigs drilling off the coast of Wellington.
  • And finally, we don't have a secret underground vault filled with electric cars, nor do we burn crops of biofuel to ensure the price of oil remains high.

This is how out of hand the discussion has become and it's probably time we had a reasonable conversation about the future of oil and gas in New Zealand.

It seems as if opposition to the industry wants Kiwis to believe they can either have a country with a clean-green image or one that supports hydrocarbon exploration. But we don't need to choose. We can have both.

Every one of us that makes up the oil and gas industry wants to ensure we don't risk the pristine environment we are so proud of.

We understand that after incidents such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico, New Zealanders are concerned that if we experience an event like an oil spill, we will not be in a position to deal with it.

To say oil and gas exploration is 100 per cent risk-free would be untrue. Like many other industries we cannot responsibly provide foolproof guarantees.

What we can do is work hard to ensure we have best-practice models, that we eliminate risks at every turn and implement the best technologies to ensure wells have little environmental impact and are as safe as possible from the risk of incident. We are more concerned about constructing a steel reinforced fence at the top of the cliff rather than providing an ambulance at the bottom.

New Zealanders travel on planes every day. The pilots and mechanics triple check the engines; ground staff prepare each plane for flight over and over again. But there are no 100 per cent guarantees the flight will proceed without incident. We see some horrific stories about plane crashes. But because the odds of a plane crash are so small, we continue to board planes every day to get from A to B.

This is the same for the oil and gas industry.

For decades the industry in New Zealand has run largely unnoticed. There have been no major incidents and the last death was in 1996. Few industries can claim such a record. Block offers have passed us all by without a hikoi in sight, and hydraulic fracturing has been carried out for 20 years without a single incident.

We know times are changing. New Zealanders want more information about the technology we use and environmental impacts, and many want better consultation. We want that, too.

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Like our local communities and iwi we believe consultation is imperative to ensuring concerns are addressed by facts and figures rather than slogans and scaremongering.

The oil and gas industry is no Johnny-come-lately. It has been a part of the economy for more than 100 years, is the country's fourth largest exporter and provides 7000 well-paid jobs nationwide.

Making a find isn't easy, especially on the pocket. And in true Kiwi style, internationally we punch above our weight, competing for international exploration dollars. We do need international investment – it's what will keep our water running hot in 10 years' time and help our economy get back in black.

In Taranaki we have become part of the community. And the benefits of successful finds can be seen throughout the region.

Don't just take my word for it, go and visit Taranaki. Go down to the local pub or club, find some of the industry workers and chat to them about the oil and gas industry; about the jobs they and many of their family have; about the swimming pool sponsored by Todd Energy; or this year's children's book festival sponsored by Origin.

Then you'll get to see the faces of the industry, have a debate about the jobs they do safely day in and day out, all while having a few good laughs.

You'll see what the industry can do for New Zealand, and if you are lucky, and reasonable, you may even get shouted a handle of beer or a packet of chips.

David Robinson is the chief executive of the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand, which represents the interests of petroleum producers and explorers in New Zealand.

Related story:

Response: Let's Get The Real Oil


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