Job expansion plans take a hit

TALKING POLITICS BY GORDON CAMPBELL
Last updated 10:42 10/12/2012

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OPINION: The Government has long been depending on oil and gas exploration to deliver economic growth and jobs aplenty. 

However, as of last week that particular bottle is no longer hanging on the wall.

The decision by Brazilian oil giant Petrobras to terminate its exploration activities off East Cape has come hard on the heels of the American oil firm Anadarko announcing that it had suspended plans for deep-sea drilling off the Taranaki coast.

Taken together, the decisions sound the death knell for Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce's oft-stated belief that oil and gas finds in our territorial waters offer New Zealand a realistic path to economic prosperity.

True, the exit of Petrobras means that the licences that it held off East Cape will now be available for others to purchase.

Yet as Radio New Zealand's Mary Wilson asked Energy Minister Phil Heatley last week, if the world's third-largest oil company doesn't believe the test results justify spending any more money off East Cape, who else will?
Heatley's reply? ''Let's see.''

Waiting and hoping looks like an increasingly forlorn hope - and the post-mortems on the Petrobras departure have already begun.

The protest actions taken by Greenpeace in conjunction with East Cape Maori communities do not seem to have inspired Petrobras' final decision, nor were the protests ever conceived in that light.

Local activists always spoke of making their opposition merely an element in the decision mix, rather than a decisive factor.

Petrobras, it seems, simply over-reached itself. All year, the company has been trying to consolidate its highly ambitious global expansion plans into something more financially sustainable.

The crucial next step in New Zealand would have involved Petrobras bringing in a drilling rig that, reportedly, would have cost a million dollars a day to operate.

Given our rough, deep and untested waters, and in the absence of local infrastructure - most of the expertise and high-paying jobs would have been flown in and out again by the Brazilians - the gamble wasn't judged to be worth the risk.

Ultimately, Petrobras cut their losses at considerably less than their $10 million initial budget, and went home.
There will be ripple effects.

The high cost involved in importing and operating a deep water rig always made it desirable to spread the cost across a few sites and participants.

With the departure of Petrobras, much of the critical mass for a local deep sea exploration/drilling industry has now been lost.

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So where does that leave the Government in terms of a feasible plan for job creation and economic growth?

To Radio New Zealand, Heatley named a few other bottles still left standing: ''We talk about irrigation in the South Island. We talk about marine farming. We talk about Sky City Casino. We talk about minerals exploration....''

Offshore oil and gas exploration still had potential to create jobs, Heatley insisted. ''But until a business decides to make an investment and employ people, we can't have that conversation.''

Wondering, waiting, wishing. Like job seekers on the employment market, the Government appears to be looking at the available growth options with an increasing sense of desperation.

At this rate, even Cabinet Ministers could be out looking for new jobs after the next election.

- Upper Hutt Leader

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