As a community we find ourselves in a situation where, based on the recent petition signatures, a significant proportion of the population has serious reservations about an industry that is already rolling into town.Image

I agree with the oil lobbyist who recently said “New Zealanders can make up their own minds… If we provide communities with actual facts, scientific reports and international advice they will be able to develop their own opinions.” I guess some questions are – who is the ‘we’ and whose ‘facts, scientific reports and international advice’ should New Zealanders rely on? Can we expect the Government to provide objective information and impartial resources when they have an energy agenda that lists fossil fuels as a higher priority than renewables? Can the industry be trusted to put the interests of future generations ahead of an opportunity to boost the next quarterly results?

This newspaper, the Chamber of Commerce, local body politicians and Crown Ministers have all championed the oil and gas industry (provided they only pollute in ‘environmentally responsible’ ways of course) and those raising questions have had their concerns dismissed as alarmist and the scientific evidence denounced by those detractors as unreliable.

Some useful information is from government sources like the Final Report of The National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling that made recommendations to the government and petroleum industry. Earlier this year it issued a report card 12 months after its report was published with responses to the recommendations and both the industry and government got dismal grades (C+ and D).

Another source of information that can be reliable is the industry itself. In Oilfield Review (Autumn 2003), a 15-page Schlumberger article titled, ‘From Mud to Cement – Building Gas Wells’, states:  “Even a flawless primary cement job can be damaged by rig operations or well activities occurring after the cement has set.” Uncontrolled gas migration can contaminate surface and ground water; it is a well-known problem in the industry. As the article notes (p. 63):

“Since the earliest gas wells, uncontrolled migration of hydrocarbons to the surface has challenged the oil and gas industry. Gas migration, also called annular flow, can lead to sustained casing pressure (SCP), …Annular flow and SCP are significant problems affecting wells in many hydrocarbon-producing regions of the world.”

The Schlumberger documents show a graph of U.S. Minerals Management Service data from 22,000 underwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico that indicates cement failures rise with the age of the well.  After 12 years about 40 percent of wells have cement failure. After 30 years, about 60 percent of wells have cement failure.

Another reasonably reliable source of information is people who have experienced petroleum operations in their communities.

On Wednesday night a dairy farmer from the US who had the drinking water on her farm contaminated following drilling will be speaking at the Dome cinema.

Caleb Behn from Alberta and British Columbia has met with Gisborne residents. Caleb has many family members employed by the industry and acknowledges it does bring a heap of money. From his experience it also brings a heap of serious problems.

And Gisborne people are in contact with academics neither for nor against petroleum exploration and production. A growing number of peer-reviewed, independent scientific studies (maybe not those industry funded ones) are showing results that any sensible person would be concerned about.

Of course on top of all this is the ‘fact’ that providing ongoing access to cheap fossil fuels simply makes clean energy development less competitive and hinders our progress toward critical emissions targets.

So to characterise those with concerns as some how not interested in the ‘facts’ is disingenuous to say the least.

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