The Impossibility of a Serious Spill Containment

12 10 2011

Photo: Russel Norman

On Friday 7 October I established a Facebook Group called the MV Rena Response Monitoring & Action Group – it now has over 1,200 members and has become a useful space for people in the Bay of Plenty and further afield to share updates, information and ideas beyond the one directional mainstream media. Please join the conversation if you are interested in connecting with others concerned about the environmental, social, cultural, economic and political implications of the situation.

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MEDIA STATEMENT 12/10/11  [in response to this article]

Oil industry representatives are in panic mode as the Rena crisis goes from terrible to worse according to Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie.

“Oil companies and the government claims of being able to handle a significant oil spill have been exposed and they are desperately trying to create some distance between deep sea oil drilling and the inability of authorities to contain this or any spill beyond something quite minor.”

Mr Caddie says he has huge admiration for the Maritime New Zealand response and believes everyone involved at an operational level have made the best decisions they could have and have had equipment in place as soon as practical.

“But this clearly shows Hekia Parata and John Pfahlert are disconnected from reality if they think New Zealand can handle a medium sized oil spill, let alone a major one. The system is working perfectly but is clearly unable to control the situation.”

In April the Acting Minister of Energy and Resources claimed in Parliament that New Zealand had adequate resources in place to deal with a major oil spill.

A review of New Zealand’s Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response Capability was published in February 2011. A number recommendations were made by the Melbourne maritime consultancy Thompson Clarke.

In section 7 the report claims that: “Maritime New Zealand currently maintains a response capability of sufficient size to counter an oil spill of 3,500 tonnes, which is deemed to be a ‘one in a hundred year’ event. [...] the New Zealand system put into place in 1998, with equipment, MPRS and 400 trained responders to defend 7,000 tonnes is still substantially in place. The system in place today should be capable of defending 5,500 tonnes.”

The report recommends ‘the 2011 Strategy should clearly identify what the New Zealand capability is expected to respond to’.

“If up to 350 tonnes have so far been released by MV Rena in circumstances that are not unique – what would 5,500 tonnes look like? In the just the first two weeks of the Deepwater Horizon disaster an estimated 10,000 tonnes of oil was released into the Gulf of Mexico.”

“So while New Zealand may have a 400 strong team of world class experts and equipment ready for deployment the truth of the matter is that even a moderate sized oil spill like the one off Tauranga cannot be contained by any amount of equipment or any number of experts.”

“And while Mr Pfahlert may try to minimise the risks his industry wants the East Coast to take with deep sea oil drilling, his suggestion that there has never been a oil spill from an offshore well is just plain wrong.”

Just last year Austrian oil and gas giant OMV, whose New Zealand arm operates the Maari gasfield, accepted responsibility for a spill that saw oil washed up on Kapiti Coast. OMV New Zealand managing director Wayne Kirk said the spill happened at the floating production platform, the Raroa, which is permanently moored 80 kilometres off the Taranaki coast.

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3 responses

13 10 2011
James Redwood

Hi Manu, not sure I agree with your support of MNZ. If they had declared the ship hazardous immediately we would have been pumping oil off in fine weather on Saturday morning. Going on what MNZ is reporting it would have taken 30 – 40 hours to get it all, so likely they would have been finished on Sunday afternoon, before the storm hit.
It took almost two days before the declaration was made, and a salvor appointed. Surely when a large vessel is grounded and its hull is breached, it is a hazardous ship?
Another point is our exposure as taxpayers. With a cap on the owner’s insurance at US$12 million, we’ve probably used that up already. We need better protection than that in our legislation. Finally, there needs to be better regulation of flag of convenience ships plying our coastal trade market.
So there’s three areas where our Maritime Law has contributed to this event. In addition to the excellent points you have made.

13 10 2011
Admin

Thanks for the important issues you’ve raised James. I should have clarified or qualified my statements to say I think they have done the best job they could have of trying to contain and clean up the spill – the liability on taxpayers (Exxon Valdez case is still in court trying to get money from the polluters) and shipping regulations are critical issues but not the focus of the points I was making which are really more to say there is probably no adequate response to contain a serious spill and prevention (such as getting the oil off sooner, not allowing dangerous deep sea drilling, etc.) is better than cure. I’m not an expert on salvage and I guess the full facts and analysis of decisions will come out through multiple investigations… MNZ gave their reasons as to why they could not or chose not to remove the oil sooner (not sure what reason they gave for declining the offer of the two inflatables that according to the company could have been used sooner) but it does still seems very strange.

13 10 2011
Amber

Couldn’t have put it better Manu

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