Risks of deep sea drilling kept secret: Labour

GLENN CONWAY
Last updated 14:48 21/11/2013
David Cunliffe
John Kirk-Anderson

'REPREHENSIBLE': Labour leader David Cunliffe, visiting Christchurch with candidate Poto Williams today, says the Government withheld vital information on plans for oil drilling off the Kaikoura coast.

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Labour claims the Government has deliberately withheld information of "vital national importance'' surrounding plans to drill for oil off the Kaikoura coast.

Documents produced by Labour leader David Cunliffe showed the real risk of an incident occurring at the depths of Anadarko's proposed Kaikoura drilling site, was kept secret by Environment Minister Amy Adams.

Adams rejects the accusation, but Cunliffe said her actions were "reprehensible'' and he would probably fire her if she was in his Cabinet.

The research, revealed by Cunliffe in Christchurch this afternoon, showed Adams had international research 13 months ago that showed there was a 70 percent probability of a "reportable incident'' happening within a year at the 1500m depth of the Kaikoura well. Such incidents could include an oil spill, fire and or collision.

Adams said it was "quite wrong" to say that the 70 per cent figure reflected the risk of an oil spill.

The figure referred to equipment failure, falls, or even property damage, she said.

To present it as a 70 per cent chance of an oil spill was "just straight scaremongering".

Cunliffe insisted the research showed the risk of oils pills increased dramatically when drilling took place at deeper levels.

"Amy Adams went to great lengths to keep this information from the public. In fact, she told Parliament there is a 'very low risk' of a large scale oil spill occurring.

"The Government needs to be honest about the risks of deep sea oil drilling, especially when the Kaikōura community and the wider public hold serious reservations about Anadarko's plans."

Adams conceded the risk of spills did increase on deeper waters but said "the data we've got on oil spill risk tells us that there is a very low risk of a significant occurrence."

"Events like the Deepwater Horizons incident are absolutely rare. In fact we're only aware of two sizable events of that kind of scale in the course of wells that have been drilled."

Cunliffe said this was not the first time the Government has misled the public over this issue.

"Last year the Energy and Resources Minister told Kaikōura residents they would be consulted on exploration drilling but this year National rushed through legislation taking away that democratic right.

"In September Amy Adams said the impact of an oil spill would be 'significant' but it turns out she'd been told it would be 'catastrophic'.

"Last month John Key claimed there had only been one 'problem' in the Gulf of Mexico but there have been 74 major spills.

Cunliffe stressed Labour supported "in principle'' deep sea mining but it wanted all the facts released so people had all the information available.

"A major oil spill would affect our international reputation, not just our environment, and harm our exports and tourist operators. We can't afford to risk our future for a short-term gain."

The information was of ''vital national importance", he said.

''We think it is reprehensible the Key Government has withheld from the New Zealand public for over a year.''

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Labour had fought hard to get the information released.

Labour was not opposed to ''sensible'' deep-sea drilling, but for any consent to be approved under his Government it would need world class environmental standards, cleanup capability, full liability cover and a good level of consultation with affected communities.

''I believe that the industry is a responsible industry. We (Labour) want a mature conversation; we are up for that.''

The industry knows it has to earn the social right to explore New Zealand but that balance has been lost under the Key Government's approach which ''time after time, favours the interests of the big end of town.''

Adams should be ''deeply ashamed'' of her actions, Cunliffe said.

''I think this is a deliberate attempt  by a relevant Minister to deny the public information which is absolutely crucial to a mature debate on this issue.''

Labour had received the information earlier this week and Cunliffe promised ''my top drawer is full of OIAs" (Official Information Act requests).

The environmental impacts had been misrepresented by Adams, he said.

''If we blow a well-head off Kaikoura, it will take weeks and probably months to get a back-up rig there to help plug the gap and a couple of months of major spill, although unlikely that may be, would be a significant disaster for wildlife, for the health of our oceans, the health of our fisheries and for our tourism brand at a cost of billions of dollars to New Zealand.

''That would be a major league disaster."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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