Government Cuts Gisborne Roading Funds

A three year road funding commitment for the Gisborne District has been compared to the washouts plaguing the region at present.

“With more than $400,000 per year cut from the roading programe, this announcement leaves some big potholes in our road maintenance budget” said Regional Transport Committee member Manu Caddie.

Mr Caddie says the Government has cut funding to the region and ratepayers could end up footing more of the bill to maintain local roads.

“There is little in this package to ‘bolster’ Gisborne’s economy – while road maintenance and repair costs are going through the roof and ratepayers are struggling to make ends meet the District doesn’t even to get to keep what it had, we are getting less than last year!”

Mr Caddie pointed to a study presented to the Regional Transport Committee early this month that showed there was little if any economic benefit to be expected from increasing truck sizes on Gisborne roads.

Mr Caddie said while the Regional Transport Committee ended up supporting the funding bid to NZTA it did so largely because Gisborne District Council was told the amount put forward was the maximum the region had any chance of securing under current Government policy.

“It is good to see cycling and walkways made the cut but if you read the fine print, they are only going to be funded if the major project to allow bigger logging trucks to run from Tolaga Bay through the city to Matawhero costs no more than is budgeted for.”

“Regional roads are essential to the economic wellbeing of the District and the country, which is why our Regional Transport Committee is joining other provincial roading authorities and councils to call on the National-led government to drop its commitment to the seven Roads of National Significance. A few roads in the big centres are sucking so much money that the Government has not only taken funds off the regions but is borrowing more overseas to pay for them.”

Subsidies & Spinners

– – –

Oil lobbyist David Robinson in a recent column said we should let the public make up their own minds: “we can argue back and forth, back and forth using hand-picked examples of why each point of view is right. But that’s not helping anyone.” Of course he included with this statement with a few hand-picked examples.

I guess I do have personal ideology as Mr Robinson claims but I don’t agree it should be ‘put aside’ – it’s an ideology that favours all of the relevant information being made available to the public so we can make free, prior and informed decisions. Any opposition I have has developed since looking beyond the industry PR spin ($185m worth of lobbying in the US alone last year) and trying to take seriously the science related to human use of petroleum and its impact on the planet.

Beyond the climate implications, it seems useful to refer to people with direct experience of the industry, like Caleb Behn who acknowledges the income that can be derived from oil. Weighing these benefits with the negative social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts in his homelands, Caleb is strongly opposed and warns others to look carefully at the situation in British Columbia and Alberta.

The farmer speaking in Gisborne this week is in no way ‘philosophically opposed to the oil and gas industry’ – if Mr Robinson had read her story in The Washington Post he would have seen that Ms. Vargson and her husband used to maintain a herd of dairy cattle but got out of that business because of methane getting into their well water, a fact confirmed by the state regulators. The couple now work at other jobs and worry their son won’t be able to farm there either. Ms. Vargson permitted drilling of a gas well in the pasture behind her home, but the experience has raised serious doubts. Drilling “can be done safely,” she said. “I believe that the technology is there.” But she added: “I believe that for the most part the industry takes a lot of shortcuts.”

The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) and UK Royal Society’s fracking report probably hasn’t been widely promoted because it omits some key facts: the RAE’s ex-President is Lord Browne, Chairman of Cuadrilla, the UK’s leading fracker. Lord Browne was head of the RAE until last year and owns 30% of Cuadrilla.

The RAE is also part funded by the oil and gas industry. In the last three years the RAE has taken £601,000 from oil companies with links to fracking. The same organisation has awarded cash prizes to BP engineers for their work in hydraulic fracturing.

The influence of the oil and gas industry on the RAE has not decreased with Lord Browne’s departure. His successor – Sir John Parker – is closely connected to the fracking industry. Before taking over at the RAE, Parker headed Anglo American with their fracking interests in in South Africa. Parker is a gas man through and through – some of his previous positions include non-executive director at British Gas, Chairman of National Grid Transco (gas distribution) and non-executive of BG Group (which has coal bed methane interests in Scotland).

Mr Robinson says renewables are too expensive, I agree. If it wasn’t for the one trillion dollars of annual public subsidies awarded to the fossil fuel industries and permissive legislation that allows continued access to relatively cheap fossil fuels, renewable technology would be affordable to most of us.

It was great to hear Rod Drury this week talking about how his software company may soon overtake Fonterra as New Zealand’s largest business. IT entrepreneurs are keen to move to Gisborne for the lifestyle and environment it currently offers. Some locals have been in contact with a biochemicals company in California that has huge potential and is interested in establishing a demonstration plant on the East Coast. These seem like far more sensible opportunities for our community to encourage than the dirty business of oil.

A week of exciting opportunities…

I thought about setting up a bed in the corner of the Council chambers last week – four days straight in there with extra reading in the evenings meant I enjoyed the long weekend!

It was awesome to hear from such a cross section of our community. A lot of submitters both urban and rural are concerned about environmental issues like erosion control, flood protection and waste management. We received huge support from both urban and rural folk for improved cycle-ways and walkways in the city, as a result we’ve agreed to bring those projects forward a couple of years.

I find the whole central government planning and funding regime for transport quite appalling – there is no integrated transport planning process and regional priorities get sidelined if they don’t match national priorities. So we’re doing a study of the impact of heavy vehicles in the city and looking for solutions that don’t include scenarios involving rail – go figure. Taxpayers are forking out the ridiculous sum of $14 billion for a few gold-plated Roads of Significance to National while State Highway 35 is falling off the hillside in numerous places with no money to fix the dropouts or build better routes.

This is an exciting week for Tairāwhiti as the Transit of Venus events see world-leading thinkers and doers grace our shores following Captain Cook’s crew.

Cook was a world-leading explorer with a remarkable story of innovation and adaptability that we can still learn much from. His time in this part of the country was a mixed bag to say the least and while locals still grapple with the legacy he left, it is important to acknowledge the constructive engagement and mutual discoveries that emerged during his visit.

It has been encouraging to see local young people wrestling with the name Cook assigned to Poverty Bay and I’ve been impressed with the number of people who have contacted me over the past month about adding another official name.

Dame Anne Salmond has pointed to Cook’s journals that suggest his Tahitian guide Tupaia was told the name for the bay was Oneroa. Local iwi know the land as Turanganui-a-Kiwa, Tūranga-a-Mua, Tūranga Ararau, Tūranga Makaurau and Tūranga Tangata.

I don’t think we need to toss out the name Poverty Bay – it is part of the story of this place and is as much a part of the local community as Kaiti Hill, Rere Rockslide and Meng’s cooking.

It would however be helpful to have another official name that we can use for promoting the area and acknowledging it had a name well before Europeans arrived here. Plenty of places around New Zealand now have two official names.

If anyone is really keen to progress the issue please get in touch as I’d like to get us together to make it happen sooner rather than later.

Local Government Reforms?

Some of the reforms being proposed for local government by Minister of Local Government Dr Nick Smith are to be welcomed.

For one, I think it’s great to see a review of Development Contributions. No doubt the review will find that they need to be increased so that essential services such as social housing can be part-funded when a flash new subdivision is built. New Zealand is one of the few countries that doesn’t require such a provision.

However, many of the reforms aren’t so welcome.

I raised the issue of being proactive about the pending reforms at last week’s Community Development Committee meeting and was told by council colleagues that the Minister was simply “flying a kite” and was unlikely to make any radical changes.

But some of the changes certainly seem radical to me, particularly the gutting of local government to be nothing more than an engineering department and administrative office for fast-tracking resource consents.

I encourage Gisborne residents to provide feedback through the 10-year plan consultation process on what services they want to see their council provide.

For example, does council have a role in monitoring how central government spends locally? And should we be concerned about local social and economic development issues?

If central government was so good at it, we wouldn’t have any homeless, any youth unemployed, any hungry kids, any crime.

The reality is central government does a terrible job of addressing social issues, education and health care because there is so little accountability and lack of responsiveness to local priorities. Ruatoria is not Wellington and Elgin is not Dunedin . . . one size doesn’t fit all and centralised government is the problem not the solution.

For a party that espouses the virtues of personal responsibility and local autonomy — and loved to bleat about the “nanny state” — these reforms seem more consistent with a totalitarian, centralised system of government that will increasingly dictate to communities what is best for us, and will remove local checks on central government decisions while expropriating resources from our communities.

Council spending across the country on so called “non-core services” (such as culture, recreation and sport) declined by $185 million between 2008 and 2010 to just 13.2 percent of authority spending.

From 2007-2010 rates were a stable portion of household expenditure, holding steady at 2.25 percent.

The recent Productivity Commission’s draft report on housing affordability notes that rates have been declining in relation to property values, indicating that in terms of household wealth, rates are becoming less significant.

While the government is borrowing heavily to fund it’s seven gold-plated highway projects, it’s hypocritical to be telling councils to stop wasting money.

Dr Smith has manufactured a crisis to drive through changes based on ideology, not evidence.

Māori Land & Council Rates

By the end of last year, Gisborne District Council was owed about $3.5m in overdue rates on Maori land. Council recently agreed to the establishment of a working group to focus on the issues relating to Maori land and rates.

As it turns out, central government also has a group working on the issues, as have many governments before the current one. In fact 80 years ago Sir Apirana Ngata and the Prime Minister, George Forbes, established a joint committee to inquire into the question of unpaid rates on Māori land. The committee found significant areas of land had no rateable value and recommended local authorities to remove such areas from valuation rolls. The committee visited a number of the development schemes on Māori land that Ngata had initiated and the members were impressed with the productivity gains generated off these blocks.

These schemes assisted in a wide range of successful cooperatives operating on the East Coast, enabled Māori to retain ownership and created thousands of jobs.

The Waitangi Tribunal suggests that rates “were initially introduced as a tool of local government to meet its own infrastructure needs and those of settlers, rather than in response to what Māori may have wanted.”

Before 1893 the law did not allow Māori land to be sold to cover rating debts and central government reimbursed local authorities for unpaid rates on Māori land (that it turns out had been grossly overvalued). From 1910, nearly all Māori land became rateable unless held under customary title. In 1924, responsibility for rates recovery was shifted to the Māori Land Court. From then on, if arrears accrued against the land, it could be the subject of a charging order by the court, and placed in receivership or trust for lease or sale.

From 1950 to 1970, new legislation extended the powers of the court to force the development of ‘unproductive’ Māori land that had not been able to pay rates. The Waitangi Tribunal has found that a major effect of legislation introduced during this period seems to have been to boost the use of receivership as a means of rates enforcement.

The whole concept of local government rates has its philosophical origin in European legal theory that all land is ultimately held by the Crown. However, in New Zealand the question has persistently arisen in the development of rating law as to whether land not held by the Crown, but rather held by Maori in customary tenure, should be subject to rates. Council’s Whenua Rahui policy recognises this issue to some degree.

Since the 2007 Local Government Rates Inquiry there has been a shift and valuations for rating purposes make some small concession for the complexities of Māori land tenure and specify this on rates demands.

Dr Api Mahuika has advocated establishment of a Ngāti Porou local government district – some of my colleagues might support this proposal given the high cost of maintaining roads across such a large area and the large proportion of unpaid rates coming from the northern part of the district. Of course such a proposal is unlikely to be within the scope of our working group but it seems a similar emphasis on self-determination is the basis of the Tuhoe position on Te Urewera, as it was for Gandhi before Britain quit India. There are myriad examples of semi-autonomous governance arrangements around the world, so hopefully these local questions eventually get the full consideration they deserve.

The new Council working group will meet next month to determine the Terms of Reference and will no doubt welcome key stakeholders in the discussions and potential solutions. Watch this space!

2012 Projects

– – –
Some of the stuff I’m focused on this year…
  1. Gang Transformation Project via GDC, Police, schools, churches, sports clubs and residents associations
  2. Representation Review: ensuring the fairest electoral structure for Tairāwhiti via GDC
  3. Regional Housing Needs Assessment via GDC
  4. Keeping Kids Safe Project via Te Ora Hou Aotearoa
  5. Neighbourhood Resource Centres via HNZC, Ka Pai Kaiti Trust & Te Ora Hou
  6. Computer Clubhouse for Waikirikiri School
  7. Gisborne-Napier railway retention via Gisborne Rail Action Group
  8. Cycleways & Walkways via GDC Ten Year Plan, NZTA, Cycling Advisory Group, etc.
  9. Māori Land & Rates via GDC Māori Land Working Group with TPK, etc.
  10. Central Government better linked into local priorities via Whānau Ora, MSD, etc.
  11. Pēnu Marae – new wharepaku and wharenui roof hopefully
  12. Rere Rockslide – stream quality monitoring and restoration project
  13. Economic Development projects – biofuels and biochemistry projects, regional skills development and entrepreneurs recruitment campaign

Beyond Petroleum… for good.

2012 Investor Summit on Climate Risk and Energy Solutions

We have much to thank the oil industry for – that source of energy has enabled humans to achieve all sorts of things that people living 100 years ago would never have dreamed about. I love the fact that I can take my family on holiday to Tauranga and complete the trip in four hours instead of the week or two it would take by horse (if the weather was fine!), I love the medicines, food, clothing and technology that uses cheap oil and gas in their production and distribution processes.

I also know that future generations are going to look back on us in disbelief that we burnt good oil so quickly and carelessly. In light of the overwhelming evidence (well canvased in The Gisborne Herald letters page!) on human caused climate change and peak oil, ‘responsible extraction of fossil fuels’ is quickly becoming an oxymoron.

This is a conscience issue for me, based on the current scientific consensus about the causes of accelerating climate change, I feel I must have some tangible commitment to an urgent transition away from our reliance on fossil fuel toward renewable energy sources.

I currently own a hybrid car that alternates between petrol and electric propulsion. Recently I looked at buying a fully electric car but I could not afford it without adding 40% to our mortgage! I couldn’t help but think that the cost of that electric vehicle, which had been converted from petrol, would be much cheaper if it was more expensive to produce and consume fossil fuels here and overseas. Economies of scale mean that when more people do more of something we usually find cheaper ways to do it.

A recent OECD report estimates New Zealand taxpayers give fossil fuel users around $70 million each year from the public purse. If that is not bad enough, the same report suggests Norway – the country our government suggests we emulate – subsidises fossil fuels to the tune of over $1.8billion per annum. Recent editorials in this newspaper have claimed supporters of investment in renewable energy are proposing subsidies that would be an exercise in ‘government directed disaster’ – I imagine $1.8 billion could be considered a fair amount of government direction.

‎While the government says it is committed to reductions in carbon emissions, it has made fossil fuel production a key part of the national economic development plan. The 2011 Energy Strategy says the goal is to make this country a “highly attractive” global destination for petroleum exploration and production companies.

The Listener’s latest editorial claims “The current infatuation with the oil and gas sector runs the risk that the necessary investment in and support for new forms of renewable energy will be diminished. Of particular concern is that although the Government is rolling out the red carpet to international exploration companies, the enormous potential gains to be made from greater energy efficiency are going begging.”

Last week over 450 global investors controlling tens of trillions of dollars from four continents gathered at the UN for the biannual Investor Summit on Climate Risk & Energy Solutions.

“Climate change is certain to be a major factor in investments for the foreseeable future—perhaps the biggest investment factor of our lifetimes,” said Kevin Parker, global head of Deutsche Asset Management – this bank alone is worth US$4 trillion dollars.

The NYC summit presented a number of notable achievements including a record $260 billion invested in clean energy in 2011 and over one trillion dollars in the past six years. There was a 36% increase in solar power investments alone (reaching US$136.6 billion) in 2011. The highly successful but recently scrapped US Treasury Grant Program paid out around $9.6b over 30 months and leveraged nearly $23 billion in private sector investment for 22,000 projects in every state across a dozen clean energy industries. Investors signed onto an action plan calling for greater private investment in low-carbon technologies and tougher scrutiny of climate risks across their portfolios.

The world is moving towards renewables driven by the inescapable logic of clean energy. Gisborne may have an opportunity to tie ourselves to an outdated, dirty and what many believe irrational industry in its twilight years, or we could, with the support of central government and private investors, be a region that was bold enough to not only recognise the need for sustainable change but actually lead and prosper from it.

– – – – – –

NOTE: The original post suggested Norway subsidised the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $100b, this was a miscalculation using an online currency conversion tool. The figures are from this OECD report: 

The lower tax rate on diesel provides a benefit of 3,510 million Krone = NZ$664m, the rest of the 2010 figures seem to come out at about 2,053 million Krone = NZ$426m – so close to $1.8b. Thanks to Wayne for pointing out the error, I obviously wasn’t using my currency calculator correctly when I did the original sum. I guess my argument still stands even if it is not quite as compelling! The taxpayer subsidies in Norway do not seem to be decreasing overall, are five times the state subsidies for renewables and most are either static or increasing annually, the only subsidies that decreased in 2010 appear to be the government assistance for seismic testing in the exploration for fossil fuels. 

Council Year One: Five Lessons Learnt


So, now I’ve had my first full year in Council, I think I’ve learnt at least five useful lessons:

1. Council is about much more than roads, rates and rubbish.

My background before Council was largely in community organising, education and social issues. Since being on Council a large part of my time has been dedicated to environmental issues. A common definition of sustainable development is ‘activity that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ Different understandings within Council and the wider community of what constitutes the needs of the present and future generations predictably mean we often disagree on what the priorities should be, what are acceptable activities to allow in our district and how resources should be allocated to ensure current and future wellbeing, not only of people but also the natural environment. Economic issues do consume much of our time in Council, particularly how much we expect residents and property owners to cough up to maintain a healthy environment, decent infrastructure and an attractive community, but I have been surprised at the range of environmental issues we have to consider as a unitary authority.

2. Council staff provide great value for the money we pay them.

Most of my pre-Council experience had been fairly positive with staff in the Community Development Unit and a few councillors. Over the course of the year I’ve been blown away by the skills, knowledge and dedication of GDC staff across the organisation. We have excellent managers working long hours and their staff are true public servants in the best sense of the term. The expertise amongst our staff consistently impresses me and while we may not pay as much as many other local authorities GDC has certainly been able to attract and retain some of the best talent in the sector.

3. Councillors all care deeply about our district.

While I’ve got priorities and views that are the polar opposite to a number of my colleagues on many issues, I have come to appreciate that each one of them is passionate about the wellbeing of our district and each brings a unique perspective and set of skills and experience to the Council table. I greatly appreciate those that have been on Council longer than I have and I think the newbies bring some fresh perspectives.

4. Economic, social, environmental and cultural concerns seem to be in conflict more than they are complimentary.

There is much made of the interdependence of economic and social development, some say a healthy economy will result in an improved social profile while others believe social investment will create more productive workers. When we add the complexities of safeguarding the little that remains of wildlife habitats, the challenges of climate change, quality soil retention, freshwater management and coastal protections, the social and economic trade-offs get even more complicated. And when the cultural values, traditions and assumptions of our district’s residents get added to the mix it makes for a really exciting and often difficult matrix for decision-makers to navigate.

5. There is often more heat than light in debates about local issues.

What has really surprised me as someone who likes to see evidence rather than theatrics is the number of claims made about things like rates affordability, Council services inefficiency and ‘red tape’. I will listen carefully to members of the public and Council colleagues who produce actual examples and verified situations to substantiate their claims, but it seems far more common for the loudest voices to muscle their way in with sweeping generalisations that when the surface is scratched just don’t hold their ground.

Learning Lessons from Montara Spill

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.

The Impossibility of a Serious Spill Containment

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.

– – – – – –

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.

Fishermen rubbish Petrobras claims of regular meetings

Alexandre Anderson after being shot in the leg by gunmen connected to Petrobras and its contractors

Following the Petrobras response to recent deaths of workers published on 30 August I contacted the fishermen of  Guanabara Bay to check the company claim that:

“Petrobras maintains regular dialogue with the fishing communities in Guanabara Bay, holding monthly meetings to address issues related to the quality of life of those involved.”

Members of Associação Homens do Mar da Baía de Guanabara (AHOMAR) a union of around 700 fishermen and their families provided the following comments in response to the Petrobras claims of regular meetings.

President of AHOMAR, Alexandre Anderson, says “There is no dialogue between Petrobras and the fishing communities affected by it. Instead we only see threats and violence. Today we are victims of a new modality that Petrobras and major contractors has been promoting in Rio de Janeiro, which is the practice of “social exclusion”!

Mr Anderson also suggests Petrobras provides no compensation for the damage it causes, uses physical and psychological threats against local opposition and does not respect the laws of the country.

Amnesty International has taken up the case of the fishermen after the Treasurer of their association was assassinated in 2009 in front of his wife and children. Paulo César dos Santos Souza was beaten in his home in Magé by armed men who then dragged him outside and shot him five times in the head. A few hours earlier armed men threatened the protesting fishermen at the Petrobras pipeline worksite. Before they killed Santos Souza they interrogated him, asking him about documents belonging to AHOMAR.

Alexandre Anderson himself has escaped eight attempts on his life and has been hit by gunfire but has survived to date. Two of the gunmen have been caught and at least one admitted his connection to Petrobras and its contractors. Mr Anderson claims that often the gunmen are off-duty Police as the work pays well and even where there is an investigation very rarely is anyone prosecuted.

Mr Anderson told me this week, “We will resist until the last fisherman since we have no alternative but to fight for our rights even if it takes our lives.”

Maicon Alexandre contradicts Petrobras claims of monthly meetings with fishermen in Guanabara Bay: “With Petrobras there is no dialogue! The company does not respect the traditional fishing communities and Petrobras excludes our communities! Petrobras is criminal, we have no dialogue with it! The only dialogue from Petrobras are threats.”

Daize Menezes, the wife of a fisherman, said: “There is no dialogue by Petrobras. The dialogue is only threats, gunmen, bombs, helicopters, fear and death. There are socially and environmentally responsible companies but Petrobras is not one of them.”

If Petrobras have them, perhaps they can provide us with more details on their “regular dialogue” including copies of minutes including dates, locations, people present, issues discussed and outcomes achieved from the monthly meetings they claim take place between their company and the fishermen of Guanabara Bay.

There are some 50 areas of conflict between Petrobras and indigenous  communities in Brazil and the connections between these communities and East Coast communities are strengthening every day.

Call for rethink after 15 Petrobras workers killed in three incidents

After the deaths of 15 Petrobras workers in three separate incidents in the last two weeks, the safety record of the company must be rewritten and those claiming this is a model company need to reconsider their position.

On Saturday a Petrobras minibus crashed in Parana state killing ten workers and hospitalising 11 more. A day earlier a Petrobras helicopter carrying workers from the P-65 oil rig crashed in the Atlantic 100km offshore and killed the four people on board.

Petrobras platforms were shutdown in January and February by government labour inspectors following a fire on one rig and concerns over safety measures on another. Union leaders said in a statement that the unit closed in February lacked emergency lighting and sufficient fire control systems. Last year the P-33 platform was shutdown by officials following a massive gas leak and the P-35 platform closed down after a fire on board.

The idea that Petrobras has had a clean safety record for ten years is a complete myth. Unions in Brazil have continually complained about unsafe working conditions and a lethal explosion at a Petrobras refinery two weeks ago is just one more black mark against the company this year.

Government officials in Argentina ordered Petrobras to close down an oil refinery after an explosion at the plant killed a 44 year old worker and left another 47 year old in hospital with severe burns to 15% of his body.

The refinery, located in the southern port city of Bahía Blanca, has a capacity of 31,000 barrels per day. The blast happened in a resting area when workers turned on the lights after finishing their shift.

The death of the Petrobras refinery employee and disfigurement of his colleague two weeks ago follow a similar explosion at another Petrobras refinery in Argentina three years ago, a major incident in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year as the company prepared to start the first new extraction since the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the assassination two years ago of a fisherman and ongoing intimidation of his colleagues who have been protesting against a Petrobras pipeline in Guanabara Bay, Brazil.

The statement issued by Petrobras assuring investors that refining operations had not been affected by the explosion was another example of how little regard the company has for people over profit. Petrobras’ own Chief Financial Officer admitted this week that oil platform shutdowns were up this year, which suggests there are more than those that make the news, but as expected he didn’t offer details.

This company is not a model corporate citizen and the Minister of Energy and Resources should not be allowing Petrobras to operate in New Zealand waters.

Petrobras supporters here will probably claim such incidents are less likely in New Zealand, that it is a huge multinational corporation with thousands of staff and contractors or perhaps “occupational hazards” are impossible to prevent entirely. These positions miss the point. Worker deaths are not some kind of collateral damage,  unavoidable costs of economic development in the increasingly risky search for fossil fuels. Workers are members of families and communities, who should be able to work in environments that are safe. And this issue is not about regulations, it is about a whole corporate culture beyond the PR spin in an industry continually pushing the limits of technology and human labour in the pursuit of a fatter bottom line and increased returns for shareholders.

If those who welcome Petrobras with open arms were not so bedazzled by promises of financial windfalls from deep sea fossil fuel extraction, they might look beyond the information the industry provides for evidence of the dismal safety and environmental record of this company.

Renewed call to exit Petrobras deal after explosion

A Gisborne District Councillor has renewed his call for the government to suspend the East Coast exploration permit for Brazilian energy company Petrobras following a lethal explosion at a Petrobras refinery.

Manu Caddie says the idea that Petrobras has had a clean safety record for ten years is a complete myth.

Mr Caddie says the death of this Petrobras employee and disfigurement of his colleague follow a similar explosion at a Petrobras refinery in Argentina three years ago, a major incident in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year as the company prepared to start the first new extraction since the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the assassination two years ago of a fisherman and ongoing intimidation of his colleagues who have been protesting against a Petrobras pipeline in Guanabara Bay, Brazil.

“This company is not a model corporate citizen and the Minister of Energy and Resources should not be allowing Petrobras to operate in New Zealand waters” says Mr Caddie.

Government officials yesterday ordered Petrobras to close down the refinery in Argentina after an explosion at the plant killed a 44 year old worker and left another 47 year old in hospital with severe burns to 15% of his body.

The refinery, located in the southern port city of Bahía Blanca, has a capacity of 31,000 barrels per day. The blast happened in a resting area when workers turned on the lights after finishing their shift.

The plant accounts for about five percent of Argentina’s total refining capacity of 627,000 BPD. The plant needs two days to gradually shut down.

Mr Caddie says the statement issued by Petrobras assuring investors that refining operations had not been affected by the explosion was another example of how little regard the company has for people over profit. The claim also seemed to be at odds with the government official statement that said the plant had to be closed until the incident was fully investigated.

What Lies Beneath? All sides of the issue (except the govt. who don’t want to front up)



It’s a real shame that both the Acting Minister of Energy & Resources and MED / Crown Minerals declined the invitation to participate in this event on an issue that has high interest both locally and nationally…

A printable version of the poster is available here: what lies beneath (4.9mb PDF)



Response to Nick Smith’s announcement on new oceans bill


2 June 2011

A vocal critic of government policy on offshore drilling in the Raukumara Basin says he cautiously welcomes the announcement that a new bill will be introduced this year to establish regulations on minerals exploration and extraction beyond the Territorial Sea.

District Councillor Manu Caddie says the proposal announced by Minister for the Environment Nick Smith is a big step in the right direction.

“I take issue with his statement that what happens beyond the 12 mile limit has less effect on local communities, a large oil or gas leak in the EEZ would have a massive impact on the Coast.”

Mr Caddie says that provided the legislation has provisions at least as robust as the Resource Management Act, he believes it is a positive development.

“It is pleasing to see that where a proposed activity spans the boundary between the territorial sea and EEZ, local government would have a joint role with the EPA in decision-making.

“The devil will be in the detail in terms of things like a substantial bond can be put in place before any drilling starts in case something goes wrong. We have seen overseas when a major spill happens the issue can be tied up in court for decades and the taxpayer foots the cleanup bill and no one is held to account. Requiring a billion dollar bond up front seems fair to me and should be easy to do for companies with a good reputation.”

Mr Caddie says he is also concerned about the process the EPA will use for determining what activities are determined to be permitted, discretionary or prohibited. “The Minister says seismic testing is likely to be permitted but we will make sure the EPA has access to evidence demonstrating the significant impact seismic testing has on some marine life during their regulation-setting decisions.”

“This proposal obviously doesn’t address the fundamental issue of fossil fuel extraction and the problems that creates for the country and the planet.”


Rich Rates

A few years ago, billionaire Warren Buffett blasted a tax system that meant, without even trying to minimise his taxes, he paid less than half the tax rate of his secretary. He said government policy had “accentuated a disparity of wealth that hurt the economy by stifling opportunity and motivation”.

We have seen a similar situation is at work in New Zealand as Labour revenue spokesperson Stuart Nash revealed the average farmer pays only slightly more income tax than someone on the unemployment benefit and less than a couple living on the pension and since the top tax rate dropped in the mid 1980s income inequalities in this country have steadily increased.

This week Council will be deciding a recommendation from the Mayor that we ask government to increase the proportion of how much of the cost of Council services can be included in the Universal Annual General Charge. This would effectively add $100 extra to the rates demand on lower income households in much the same was as National’s income tax cuts and GST increases are shifting government costs from those who can most afford to pay their share on to the poor. While the $100 going on to the UAGC would be offset by a reduction in some other rate, the change would give benefits to the most wealthy and increase the amount paid by those living in lower value properties.

After a national consultation process involving international research, thousands of submissions and public hearings the Shand Report in 2007 actually recommended that government remove the UAGC entirely and base local authority rates on capital value alone.

Some people argue that the capital value bears no relationship to the ability of owners to pay the rates that their property values attract and therefore capital value based rating is unfair and illogical. The empirical evidence suggests otherwise.

Findings from a project co-funded by Treasury, the Foundation for Research Science & Technology and the Royal Society of New Zealand on these issues was published in 2009 by Dr Arthur Grimes and Dr Andrew Coleman from Motu Economic and Public Policy Research. Part of that research analysed the relationship between income levels and property values. The study accounted for the issues associated with farms, Māori land and other factors that could distort the figures if only urban properties were used.

The report shows that there is a strong positive relationship, at the individual household level, between capital value (CV) and household incomes and an even stronger relationship between property CV and household net worth (i.e. household wealth).

Overall, therefore, while there will certainly be some income-poor (but possibly asset-rich) households in high CV houses, this is an exception. The relationship between CV and income is strongly positive. One way to get around the problem of income-poor but asset-rich retired households living in high CV houses is to allow them to accrue their rates to their estate as provided for by Gisborne District Council’s rates postponement scheme and rural properties get rated proportionally to their proximity to services through the five Rating Differential Areas.

Average rates increases for the next financial will be well under the rate of inflation, Council’s financial sustainability and affordability recently got a ranking of 26 out of 73 local authorities and economists at BERL ranked Gisborne District Council 12th of 72 for economic performance in 2010.

So, if there is independent analysis suggesting that there is not a strong relationship between household income and capital value it would be good to see it before we suggest government lets more rates be loaded onto the households that the existing body of research suggests can least afford it.

The First Casualty is the Truth

The Minister of Energy & Resources and the Big Oil Lobby made some less than honest claims in The Gisborne Herald in response to my previous piece, so the facts are spelt out here for them.

– – – –

Fishermen protest Petrobras pipeline in Guanabara Bay

The footnotes from the mining lobbyists (including the government) yesterday were not honest.
Hekia Parata is not telling the whole story when she says “in the event of an oil spill, the polluter pays for all the costs associated with the response”.
The requirement for spill insurance for all offshore drilling operators is only up to NZ$30m. There may be unlimited liability after that but it is not ‘strict liability’ so there is no guarantee the polluter will ever pay. The New Zealand government or other entities will have to take the polluter to court to recover cleanup costs.
Anadarko is planning to drill off Canterbury before the end of the year and is currently contesting any liability for the Deepwater Horizon disaster that they had quarter ownership in. The Exxon Valdez 1989 spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska is still in court with the polluters challenging the $92 million for ongoing cleanup. While in court, it would be New Zealand taxpayers that will have to cover costs until any settlement was reached.
The 2010 Annual Report of Anadarko concedes that “the events in the Gulf of Mexico may make it increasingly difficult to obtain offshore property damage, well control and similar insurance coverage.”
The Green Party has suggested a bond should be paid by the permit holder before any drilling occurs.
The idea that Maritime NZ could adequately respond to a deepwater spill with 400 people is a joke, while they are well trained and always on-call, their expertise and equipment is designed for small inshore spills. The Gulf of Mexico incident last year required 6,000 ships and more than 40,000 emergency personnel.
A six month investigation by CBS News released last month found that, excluding the Deepwater Horizon spill, at least 128 million litres of crude oil and other potentially toxic chemicals were spilled in the US in 2010 alone. That’s triple the size of the Exxon Valdez spill. New Zealand has had its own share of smaller spills, they come with the industry, just don’t make the big headlines.
In the past 15 years, the chequered safety record of Petrobras shows it has had 282 deaths from accidents, explosions and fires, and 27 oil rig blowouts since 1980.
While the Petrobras safety record may have improved recently (if we discount any involvement in the assassination and attempts to eliminate protesting fishermen in Guanabara Bay), the reality is the Raukumara Basin is at the most extreme end of deepwater exploration in an area with large earthquakes on a regular basis.
The Gulf of Mexico had all the best equipment on hand with thousands of trained personnel and experts just a helicopter ride away. Even then, it still took three months for experts from all over the world to figure out how to cap the Gulf well, 1500m under the ocean, Raukumara is up to twice that depth.
Contrary to the information supplied by the petroleum lobbyists, the Petrobras P-36 platform did spill crude oil, and diesel fuel – 2,000 barrels in the first 24 hours alone according to the official investigation.
And who told the NZ lobbyists that “30 days after the [Guanabara Bay] accident, there was practically no impact from the spill”?! The area is still suffering more than ten years after 1.3 million litres of Petrobras oil leaked into the water. Al Jazeera did an in-depth story on the 10th anniversary in July last year and plenty of other information on the ongoing impacts is available.

Petrobras vs. the fishermen (of Guanabara Bay, Brazil)

AHOMAR fishermen protesting against Petrobras pipeline in Guanabara Bay

Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie says a tip off from a credible source about planned AOS raids led campaigners against drilling off the East Cape to go public. Documentation of recent Police violence against local fishermen opposing a Petrobras owned pipeline in Brazil and the 2007 AOS raids against Tuhoe had meant those opposed to the Petrobras activities in New Zealand had to take the information seriously.
Mr Caddie says he has obtained a report from Brazil that documents police violence since 2009 against members of Associação dos Homens do Mar (AHOMAR) a union of around 700 fishermen in Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro.
Amnesty International has taken up the case of the fishermen after the Treasurer of their association was assassinated on 22 May 2009 in front of his wife and children. Paulo César dos Santos Souza was beaten in his home by armed men who then dragged him outside and shot Santos Souza five times in the head. A few hours earlier armed men threatened the protesting fishermen at the Petrobras pipeline worksite. According to Santos Souza’s family, before they killed him they interrogated him, asking him about documents belonging to the fishermen’s union.
Mr Caddie has been in contact with AHOMAR President Alexandre Anderson de Souza who has escaped attempts on his own life and has been warned by local Police that it is no longer safe for him to fish in the area and he should ‘stay indoors’. “We anticipate some real solidarity between the two campaigns – the fishermen of Guanabara Bay know a lot more about Petrobras than we do in New Zealand, so we look forward to supporting them and learning about their situation as they learn about ours.”
“While New Zealand does not have the extrajudicial executions and parapolicing mafia of Rio, locals here are questioning the relationships between the Executive, military, Petrobras and the Police in this campaign against deep sea drilling” said Mr Caddie. “The Government are under a huge amount of pressure on this issue and in such situations may resort to desperate measures. The statement issued last night by Police Headquarters that rumours of raids were speculation was less than reassuring – if they have no plans for AOS intervention I think they should explicitly confirm that.”
Guanabara Bay is the location of a Petrobras accident in 2000 that leaked 1.3 million litres of oil into the bay and the area has still not fully recovered from the event. Petrobras has spent more than US$200million on the cleanup and the company has not had a similar disaster since, though the Petrobras P36 platform sinking in 2001 took 11 lives and 1.5 million litres of oil being leaked into the ocean.
– – – –

San Pietro and the fight against fascism

A navy tender carrying police moves in to apprehend the tribal fishing boat San Pietro, from under the bows of the seismic survey ship Orient Explorer in traditional fishing grounds off East Cape. Saturday April 23, 2011 Photo: Greenpeace/Malcolm Pullman

San Pietro has been critical in the fight against fascism – the Italian village, where 16,000 allied casualties resulted from a pivotal battle, was key to eventually driving the Germans out of Italy after victories in the North Africa campaign.
“It is significant that San Pietro was a turning point for the allies and I believe it will be in our local struggle too” said District Councillor Manu Caddie.
“Using our own military to defend a foreign corporation and arrest and detain fishermen undertaking their customary rights in their traditional fishing grounds is a national disgrace” said Mr Caddie.
“The real criminal is the Government who issued a deep sea drilling permit with no background check on the safety and environmental history of the company, no consultation with affected communities and no assessment of environmental effects.”
Mr Caddie said the New Zealand National Party policy of auctioning off the country for mining exploration was irresponsible and would no doubt be the subject of years of litigation for groups of people who had better things to do with their precious time and resources. “Dictating what will happen in our district by opening up national parks and our coastline to transnational corporations for fossil fuel extraction shows contempt for local wellbeing and will face fierce and sustained local resistance.”

Time to Stop the Testing

One of 500 dead penguins that washed up within a few days on a beach near Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2010. Oil exploration is common in the coastal areas around Sao Paulo.



A Gisborne District Councillor is demanding a moratorium on seismic testing following revelations that scores of dead penguins are washing up on East Cape beaches and new international research suggests seismic testing is responsible for killing a range of sea creatures.

Manu Caddie said residents at Waihau Bay near East Cape found a dozen dead penguins yesterday within a 200 metre stretch of coastline and they would have found more if they kept walking. More carcasses were found around the coastline as far as East Cape by locals who say they have never seen so many dead birds washed ashore. “While the government may blame La Nina weather conditions for starving the penguins or suggest a storm killed them, locals haven’t noticed any major storm recently.”

“Evidence is piling up on the impact of the seismic tests both here and abroad” said Mr Caddie, who as a member of the Environment & Policy Committee of Gisborne District Council argued that seismic testing should not be considered a permitted activity in the Gisborne District given the potential harm it can cause to sea life.

“While the District Council is only responsible for the marine coastal environment out to the 12 nautical mile limit, we have a responsibility to protect that environment from the effects of activities that may occur beyond 12 miles. We also have a responsibility as stewards of the region and community leaders to advocate when central government has made a mistake.”

Mr Caddie cited recently published research from researchers at the Technical University of Catalonia in Barcelona that found the deaths of giant squid, washed up on Spanish beaches in 2001 and 2003, were caused by nearby oil and gas seismic surveys.

Environment and Conservation Organisations (ECO) of New Zealand said Spanish research into mass deaths of squid, cuttlefish and octopus showed organ damage in these creatures after just two hours exposure to low frequency noise from 50-400 hertz, or “acoustic smog”, due to oil and gas exploration and shipping.

“The scientists found that the organ that allows squid, octopus and cuttlefish to regulate their positions to balance and direct how and where they swim was damaged leaving the animals unable to move or to feed and vulnerable to predators,” ECO co-chair Barry Weeber said.

Mr Caddie said the activity of the Orient Explorer survey ship is putting all sea life is at risk with sonic booms from sonar gun arrays of up to 259dB firing into the sea floor. “Even the United States has stricter regulations on this activity than the New Zealand government. There is a federal register where the public have an opportunity to assess the proposed seismic testing activity. The applicant has to detail every piece of equipment to be used, with comprehensive information on the acoustic source specifications, the level of activity being undertaken and the estimated impacts on the marine environment.

Mr Caddie said the level of government hypocrisy was reaching new heights given the pressure New Zealand put on Russia last year to stop oil and gas companies using seismic testing in whale migration and breeding areas. “DOC guidelines specifically identify from now until October as the time of year most likely to have negative impacts on whales as they migrate.

Studies published last year by researchers from Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the University of Zurich suggest seismic testing has a significant impact on whales, which rely on acoustic signalling for communication, orientation, locating prey and predators:

The sounds from marine exploration surveys are one of several anthropogenic noise sources that have been identified as eliciting behavioural reactions in marine mammals. Seismic surveys rely on systems that produce impulsive, high intensity sounds (190–250 dB re 1 µPa, peak to peak), with most energy below 200 Hz. The peak frequencies of these sounds overlap the acoustic signals and estimated hearing ranges of baleen whales. Such acoustic interference could reduce a whale’s ability to detect biologically relevant signals. With the increase in oil and gas prospecting surveys into deeper waters, there is sparse knowledge on the acoustic responses of baleen whales to sounds from seismic exploration.

Our results clearly show that blue whales change their calling behaviour in response to a low-medium power technology that is presumed to have minor environmental impact. Reducing an individual’s ability to detect socially relevant signals could therefore affect biologically important processes. This study suggests careful reconsideration of the potential behavioural impacts of even low source level seismic survey sounds on large whales.”