The oil and gas industry needs to embed itself in New Zealand's psyche as agriculture has done, Taranaki Regional Council boss Basil Chamberlain says.
A popular speaker at the NZ Petroleum Summit in Wellington yesterday, Mr Chamberlain's presentation covered everything from regulatory requirements, environmental protection, hydraulic fracturing, council-industry collaboration and even Taranaki's absent first five-eighth Beauden Barrett.
However, not everyone agreed with his sentiments. Protesters disrupted the opening address by Energy Minister Phil Heatley in the morning and at 5pm, while conference attendees mingled over drinks, a group of about 90 protesters picketed the front door of the venue chanting for an end to drilling, mining and fracking.
In his address Mr Chamberlain said oil and gas had a 150-year history here but was still seen as a "visitor" in contrast to agriculture which had "full citizenship status".
"This status needs to change," he said. "If New Zealanders better understand and own the purpose of our oil and gas sector, then our collective ability to act strategically and to make good investment decisions in the national interest will be greatly improved," he said.
Mr Chamberlain said the industry contributed $3 billion to the country's gross domestic product and directly employed 4000 people and, despite the perception of some, these benefits had not come at the expense of Taranaki's natural environment.
"In short, putting greenhouse gas emissions arguably aside, at this regional scale, across land, freshwater, air or coastal resources, the industry has negligible adverse impacts," Mr Chamberlain said.
The apparent dislocation between the industry's contribution to the country and the place it held in the nation's heart was a common theme of the day.
OMV New Zealand managing director Peter Zeilinger said the industry had lost the moral high ground to alternative energy sources.
"We have not made it very clear that this country is run on oil and gas. It is not seen that it fuels the country," he said.
Shell New Zealand chairman Rob Jager said understanding of the industry was widespread in Taranaki where it had been for more than 100 years.
Despite that, Shell still needed to make sure people understood how the industry operated, how it was managed and what it contributed.
"We are as committed to a cleaner future as many people who protest against our activities but the reality is demand for energy continues to grow," he said.
Whether oil and gas exploration in New Zealand matched demand depended on whether investors saw the country as a good bet.
"This Government is focused on growing New Zealand's prosperity. One pathway is through energy but the reality is Shell has $5b to invest in exploration and has 150 countries in which it can invest. I am out there competing for that."
MINISTER UNFAZED BY PROTESTERS
A group of young, good-looking women slipped through tight security to disrupt Energy Minister Phil Heatley's opening address to a national petroleum conference yesterday.
The four protesters were quickly ushered out after dropping a few pamphlets and calling for an end to drilling and "exploitation" in the name of Ka Nui.
Brave as it was, yesterday's early-morning protest in Wellington went down like a lead balloon with the 250-odd industry players gathered at the New Zealand Petroleum Summit.
This was largely because of how they derived their livelihood, but also because the protest came soon after Mr Heatley had written off protesters planning to picket the conference that day as hypocrites.
"They will have arrived in cars and buses like everyone else and they are extreme.
"They are not really New Zealand. They have concerns but they are not really middle-class New Zealand," he said.
"Protesters are against everything so don't worry about them too much."
The advice was put into practice less than a minute later.
Mr Heatley's opening address had begun with a a frank admission of what his government thought of the oil industry and continued in that vein after the ladies were ushered out.
"We like you. National likes you and we like what you do and we very much like what you do in Taranaki for the last 100 years, pretty much under the radar, with really no problem."
The minister also ridiculed Green Party energy spokesman Gareth Hughes for claiming on Tuesday that the country gained "hardly any" royalty and tax payments from the industry for the risks oil and gas exploration posed.
Mr Heatley said the Government had pulled in almost $700 million in the 2010-11 year.
"We thought that came from your industry but it appears they came from Nigeria through some sort of scam," he joked.
The minister said he had not felt threatened by the well-dressed protesters. No arrests were made.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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