'This should be a wake-up call'
As authorities struggle with the environmental devastation of the Rena oil leaks, the government is pushing ahead with plans to tout New Zealand's offshore oil resources to overseas buyers.
The grounding of the cargo ship Rena has raised questions about New Zealand's ability to cope with a major oil spill, but the government is planning an international marketing campaign to boost offshore oil and gas exploration over the next three years.
The Ministry of Economic Development plans to appoint a provider this year to identify – and market to – exploration companies around the world ahead of block licensing next year. Promotional workshops in London, Singapore and Houston are part of the plan.
Acting Energy Minister Hekia Parata told the Sunday Star-Times the government was committed to realising the potential of New Zealand's petroleum basins.
"New Zealand is blessed with an abundance of energy resources and the government wants to use those resources in an environmentally safe way to secure our energy future, and to lift our standard of living," said Parata, who is acting minister while Gerry Brownlee handles earthquake recovery in Christchurch.
Last year petroleum was our fourth-biggest export, contributing more than $2 billion to the economy, but addressing concerns raised since the Rena's grounding, Parata said the exploration industry was stable, with reputable, responsible players.
"Oil and gas companies have emergency response plans in place as a matter of good business practice," she said.
For its part, the government had introduced legislation based on the world's best practice to apply in the exclusive economic zone, and had also established a high-hazards unit of eight inspectors for the petroleum industry.
But Green Party marine issues spokesman Gareth Hughes said the government needed to call a halt to its marketing campaign and rethink allowing more offshore oil exploration.
"It's irresponsible for the government to be pushing ahead...given the current oil crisis affecting the Bay of Plenty," he said.
"The spill should have been a wake-up call."
The government was being blinded by the potential economic gains and was ignoring the risks.
"It's irresponsible given that Kiwis will face 100% of the environmental risk, yet the taxpayer will get less than 4% of any financial benefits from oil drilling," Hughes said.
"Before anyone thinks about more deep sea oil permits, or even test wells, we need an urgent inquiry into Maritime New Zealand's response to the Rena.
"It has two investigations into the grounding but we need the government to commit to an investigation into our response. Was it up-to-scratch, did we have the necessary resources, why did it take so long?
"Kiwis have got to have faith in our government's ability to cope with any oil spills, whether they be from vessels or drilling, before we embark on what is a very risky strategy for economic development."
Greenpeace spokesman Steve Abel said that since the Rena spill, thousands of New Zealanders had signed the organisation's No New Oil petition, and the total number of signatures now stood at almost 90,000.
"People are looking at the government's proposals for deep-sea oil drilling with fresh eyes," Abel said.
"They can see the obvious – that if we can't deal with a leak of thousands of litres in 100 metres of water just offshore, how could we possibly hope to deal with a leak of millions of litres at depths of thousands of metres?
"The cost to our economy and livelihoods could amount to billions if a major spill struck our precious coastal waters, and it's simply not worth the risk."
Last year, BP's Deepwater Horizon well disgorged 780 million litres of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over three months, devastating wildlife, local fishing and tourism. The extreme drilling depth was the main reason it took so long to stop the leak.
Here the government has already issued permits for exploratory drilling on the east coasts of both the North and South Islands at depths even greater than Deepwater Horizon.
"Two years ago New Zealanders stood up to see off plans to open our best conservation land for mining," Abel said.
"Now we need to stand up and stop deep sea oil exploration because our oceans and coastlines are too valuable."
Sunday Star Times