Oil protest petition gathers support

Organisers of a protest over possible offshore drilling near Kaikoura hope to have more than 1000 signatures on a petition to be presented to MPs on Sunday.

More than 800 names have been collected so far.

A protest against offshore drilling is being held in Kaikoura on Sunday at the town's peninsular lookout on Scarborough St.

Concern has been mounting over the tender of offshore blocks for oil and gas exploration, which could include seismic mapping, drilling and fracking.

Twenty-five offshore blocks were released by Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley on February 9.

The petition calls for the withdrawal of the two offshore blocks closest to the district, about 50 kilometres to the northeast.

The petition also calls for for the offshore portion of a permit in a third block, from Kekerengu to Marlborough Sounds, to be declined. Those behind the petition believe the risks of deep-sea oil exploration are unacceptable.

One of the driving forces, Lynda Kitchingham of Kaikoura, said copies had been spread far and wide in the hope of attracting as many names as possible.

While it was difficult for her to determine exact numbers before the petition was collected at the end of the week, she was aware of copies circulating as far away as Christchurch and Dunedin.

Many businesses around town, including prominent marine-based tours such as Encounter Kaikoura and Whale Watch, as well as shops, cafes and bars, were also collecting signatures, she said.

Green MPs Gareth Hughes and Steffan Browning will be at the event on Sunday at the Kaikoura lookout to receive the petition, although Ms Kitchingham said the collection of signatures would continue throughout the following week, with the final tally being given to Parliament on April 1.

Kaikoura MP Colin King declined an invitation to attend because of another commitment.

Speakers at the protest will include Te Runanga o Kaikoura representative Maurice Manawatu and Ralph Hogan, who was instrumental in bringing the Marlborough District Council's and the community's attention to the prospect of offshore drilling.

The Kaikoura District Council has written to New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals general manager David Binnie, outlining concerns on behalf of the community regarding the offshore blocks closest to Kaikoura, 12PEG1 and 12PEG2, as well as the offshore section of permit 52676.

The letter, signed by Mayor Winston Gray, raises several concerns including the risk of an oil spill and the capacity of New Zealand authorities to deal with it, the effect of seismic activity on marine mammals, and the dependence of the local community on marine life and fishing.

Three of the offshore blocks lie directly over the Hikurangi Trench and Hope fault line.

The council has asked for a moratorium on fracking, where high-pressure fluids are injected into a rock formation.

The Marlborough Express