This article originally appeared as an Opinion Piece in The Dominion Post on 10 May 2012.

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BP & Anadarko’s Deepwater Horizon rig going down, April 2010

Oil industry representative David Robinson’s Opinion Piece on Tuesday said it’s time for the truth about oil drilling. It promised facts but provided only rhetoric. Mr Robinson says there have been no ‘major incidents’ in oil production in New Zealand, which is simply not true. The following incidents, all undeniably major, are examples of facts the oil industry tries to keep to itself.

In 2007 the Umuroa facility, operated by Norway’s Prosafe and Australian company AWE, spilt 23 tons of crude oil off the Taranaki coast. The spill affected nearly 15 kilometres of coastline, took 232 days to clean up and resulted in a successful court prosecution.

In 2010 Austrian oil giant OMV accepted responsibility for a large spill from the Maari field that saw oil washing up on Kapiti Coast. The Rena disaster revealed just how ill equipped authorities are to contain anything beyond a minor inshore spill under perfect weather conditions.

The offshore wells in Taranaki are at depths of no more than 150 metres, the Raukumara Basin off East Cape where Petrobras has been given a permit to drill is up to 3,100m deep and the BP exploratory well that blew out in the Gulf of Mexico for three months in 2010 was at a depth of only 1,500m. Anadarko (one of the DeepWater Horizon companies) has plans to drill off the coast of Taranaki and Otago in up to 3,000m of water.

In 2009 the Montara spill off the west coast of Australia resulted in the equivalent of one Rena sized disaster every day for 74 days in a row. Why would New Zealand be immune from such risks?

Over the past 15 years 282 fatalities among Petrobras staff and contract workers have been documented in accidents at oil rigs and refineries. Petrobras has suffered 27 rig blowouts since 1980 and was the first company allowed to drill at depth in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP disaster. Just before oil was due to start flowing a production riser broke away, if it had happened a few days later there could have been a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon disaster less than a year later.

Claims that a recent GNS report on earthquakes and fracking in Taranaki suggest there is no credible link, overlook the fact pointed out by seismology expert Michael Hasting that the GNS seismic detectors are not calibrated for nor close enough to fracking operations to determine any relationship. GNS should also acknowledge they are contracted to the industry when they comment on overseas reports citing evidence of a direct link.

If the industry is committed as Mr Robinson says to proper public consultation then they should agree to all resource consent applications for mining activities being subject to full notification.

The industry asks the public to trust them on their record in Taranaki. But with only 40 wells drilled, no independent scientific studies, sparse regulation and minimal monitoring, we need to consider the overseas evidence.

Professor Avner Vengosh from Duke University has led some of the most comprehensive studies on water quality related to fracking and found a direct link between water contamination and hydro-fracking. Professor Karlis Muehlenbachs at the University of Alberta cites the industry’s own publications that show up to 60% of well casings will fail within 20 years of construction. The list of peer-reviewed independent studies showing problems with the practice is growing but there are still huge gaps in knowledge about health and environmental impacts in particular.

This week it has been revealed that Germany is following France, Bulgaria and a number of other jurisdictions in Canada, USA and Australia with an indefinite ban on hydraulic fracturing.

New Zealand has too much to lose if large-scale petroleum extraction goes ahead. Our economy depends on quality food production, processing and exporting – why put it all on the line for a few years of income from petroleum exports? When consumers learn that Taranaki farmers are being paid by the oil industry to use their farms to absorb highly toxic fracking waste, our milk and meat will quickly lose its wholesome appeal. But our own health aside – how will our export markets react to the news that New Zealand milk products may derive from Taranaki cows grazed on land that has fracking waste spread over it?

Taranaki farmer spreading drilling waste across paddocks before planting grass and grazing cows on it. [Source: Taranaki Regional Council monitoring report]
Mr Robinson said it’s time we had a reasonable conversation about the future of the oil and gas industry in New Zealand. Let’s just make sure the conversation is based on the full facts.

3 responses to “Oil Industry Needs to Face Facts”

  1. blondemeetsworld Avatar

    The world runs on petroleum products; until we have a good, affordable alternative then this is how it has to be. NZ is one of the highest users for its population size of petroleum for its primary industry and transport. Why shouldn’t it produce its own? Or would kiwis rather some other country take the risks, and get the benefits, so it can continue to be happy and ignorant? You cannot have it both ways!

    Despite the reports, locals ARE employed by the oil companies and so NZ does benefit. I know because I am one! Ask around in Taranaki about the employment levels and benefits from oil company spending in the region. Do you know some of the oil companies pay to insulate and improve houses to make them more energy efficient? Build new maraes, offer training, etc etc?

    NIMBY’s seem to be everywhere in NZ at the moment. I think it’s time to accept responsibility for the kiwi high use of petroleum and start being prepared to take the risks for that in this country.

    1. Admin Avatar

      We agree the world runs on petroleum and will do until we have an alternative. Scientists agree we can only burn 1/5th of the fossil fuels already discovered before warming the climate more than two degrees.

      The question is how do we create the alternative as fast as possible? A range of options can speed up the process.

      Continuing to allow easy access to relatively cheap fossil fuels perpetuates the status quo – restricting access will increase the price and give renewables a greater share of the market faster.

      Government regulations that have required an increasing proportion of fuel sold to be renewable have helped give investors confidence to build biofuel production plants and related technology. Such regulations do not exist in New Zealand at present, the current Government removed them.

      A binding transition plan to wean New Zealand off fossil fuels before 2050 would go a long way to helping us all see the path forward and a similar level of energy consumption to continue supporting our lifestyles without destroying the planet for future generations.

      Any oil extracted from New Zealand is not used here, it is too high grade for fuels, so it is unlikely we would use any local oil for transport. We import $6b worth of fuel each year and that needs to change, renewable fuels will make us more self-sufficient and less vulnerable to international energy markets and currency exchange rates.

      Between 1,500 and 6,500 people are employed in the fossil fuel industry in New Zealand, nearly 250,000 are employed in agriculture, tourism, fishing and horticulture – all sectors that depend on a clean environment and our clean, green brand. Those jobs are being put at risk for the sake of a sector responsible for only 0.3% of NZ jobs.

      It is not a choice between the economy and the environment, the choice is about what kind of economy we want. A dirty, polluting, future wrecking economy – or an economy based on safe, sustainable jobs, a better protected environment and no risk to the climate.

      Home insulation, marae restoration and training opportunities are important and many public and private funders already support these activities – they don’t make up for the risk dirty fossil fuel industries pose to local communities and the planet.

  2. A. Hale Avatar

    Thank you for your article in the Dominion Post (May 10, 2012) articulating fears about NZ oil drilling, the potentiality of damaging spills, fracking waste in dairy products, polluted ground water, increased earthquake risks, expert and farmer payoffs. The petroleum industry can afford to use indimidation and legislation for its own selfish gains. Therfore, I wish to be part of the NZ population that says I am not comfortable with National’s green light on greed.

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