While the petroleum industry and government continue to claim there is minimal risk from deep sea oil and gas exploration, a recent oil and gas rig blow-out in Australia produced the equivalent of one Rena spill every day for 74 days in a row.
New Zealand should learn from the Montara oil and gas spill in Western Australia in 2009. A massive slick was released following a blowout from the Montara wellhead platform and continued leaking for over two months. The Australian Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism estimates that the Montara oil leak could have been as high as 320 tonnes per day.
Mr Pfahlert claimed the industry has a spotless safety record, then when reminded of just two recent rig spills in Taranaki he acknowledged there have been more than minor spills in New Zealand. He neglects to also say that Taranaki drills are based in an average of just 150 metres of water. The Raumkumara Basin permit allows drilling in depths of up to three kilometres, the same as the Montara well. The Deepwater Horizon exploratory well that blew out last year was only half as deep.
The Montara and Deepwater Horizon spills suggest, as our Anglican Bishops recently pointed out, that current technology is being pushed beyond safe limits. While there are many deep sea wells being drilled around the world, the risk from deep sea drilling is far greater than the wells New Zealand has benefited from to date in Taranaki. The Raukumara Basin is one of the most geologically unstable areas of New Zealand, the whole plan really is nuts.
The government is rushing legislation to regulate the Exclusive Economic Zone with submissions due this week. The recent major spills, including it seems the Rena disaster, have shown that design, planning and operational decisions cause most spill disasters and it is impossible to adequately regulate against human error. All the regulation in the world can’t clean up a relatively small spill like the one in Tauranga let alone if it had been an oil tanker or well blow out which are thousands of times larger.
The Rena was carrying only around two million litres of oil when it ran aground and only a small proportion of that has so far been released into the sea.
In 2003 the Capella Voyager carrying 126,823,466 litres of oil ran aground near Whangarei and fortunately did not spill its load. If the government’s plans for deep sea oil drilling go ahead, we will see many more large oil tankers operating in NZ waters increasing the risk of another accident.
In 1989 the Exxon Valdez oil tanker also hit a reef. It was carrying 208 million litres and spilled as much as 100 million litres. The effects are still being felt.
East Coast communities have categorically refused to accept the risk being imposed on their coastline and traditional fishing grounds by the government and petroleum industry.
It is pleasing to hear Labour have changed their position on deep sea drilling as the current situation in Tauranga reveals nothing can stop more than a minor oil slick. We can only hope the anger and grief being expressed by Bay of Plenty residents shows the National Party how unacceptable their policy is to coastal communities around the country.
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