Editorial: The risk is worth it

Drill for oil, don't drill for oil? No middle ground.

But in South Canterbury no huge debate either. And that's despite the drillship Noble Bob Douglas this month setting up camp off our coast somewhere (actually closer to Dunedin than Timaru).

About 140 people gathered at Caroline Bay two Saturdays back to wave placards, there have been a few letters to the editor (some opposed, some in favour), and some bumper stickers in opposition have appeared on cars (yes, that is ironic).

Everyone will have a view though, and the reason they don't air it is a) it's only exploration at this stage; b) the drillship is too far out to see; and c) they are too busy raising kids and paying mortgages.

Those who have shown their opposition are to be applauded. Good on them for fighting for the environment. They will have the right to stand front and centre and yell "told you so" if something does go wrong, although that's obviously not their aim.

And things can go wrong - images of the BP oil spill are still fresh - so it comes down to weighing the benefits against the risk.

And the benefits are high.

For all the talk about suitable alternatives to fossil fuels they are still not economically viable. If they were, we'd be using them.

So we're going to need something. And we're not just talking oil here. It's more likely gas will be found off our coast, and we need it as badly. A fifth of the country's electricity is generated by gas, and gas supplies are running out.

And here's something you might not know - but oil is our fourth largest export, after dairy, meat and wood, with a value of around $2.2 billion a year.

Other points, as provided by the petroleum industry: The Government collects around $400 million a year in royalties and this will rise substantially if further discoveries are made; oil companies pay $300m in tax a year; the industry provides almost 4000 direct jobs and a similar number of downstream ones; and the Government will receive around 42 per cent of the profit of new oil and gas developments.

So what of the risks? They are increased here due to the depth of the sea, but while things have gone wrong before, far more often they go right. And just as environmentalists are fearful of a disaster, so are the companies and so is the Government. No one is taking this lightly.

So good luck to the explorers. Just be careful out there.

The Timaru Herald