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.

2012 Projects

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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

Creating a Cycling-Centric City

The Regional Transport Committee last week had a lively debate on whether one of the top three goals for the district transport programme should include encouraging alternatives to the private motor vehicle. In the end we agreed encouraging alternative transport options is important and agreed that promoting cycling, walking and public transport is a priority.

Private cars use approximately 60% of all fuel consumed by road transport, New Zealand imports and burns through more than $20million of fuel per day!

A 2009 report by the Ministry of Transport suggests we spend a lot more time in the car and less time spent walking and cycling than we did 20 years ago. Gisborne drivers travel less distance than any other region in the country and Gisborne cyclists spend longer on our bikes each week than any other region.

In the mid-nineties there were about 15,000 motor vehicles crossing the Gladstone Road bridge each day, I suspect the volume might be slightly higher than that now. Around the country only 1% of people travel to work by bicycle, while 94% travel in a private motor vehicle. And only 5% of students – or one quarter of those that cycled when I left school 20 years ago – now cycle to high school.

In 2004 the Gisborne District Council signed up to the ‘Walking and Cycling Strategy for the Gisborne District’.

The vision of the strategy is that:

‘Gisborne District is a walking and cycling friendly region. Walking and cycling are safe, convenient, enjoyable and popular forms of transport and leisure that contribute to community, well-being and tourism.’

Targets for how the effectiveness of the strategy were to be measured have never been added to the empty boxes in document, though some general goals such as 10% of students walking or cycling to school by 2015 and an increase by 10% of commuters travelling to work by walking or cycling by 2015 are goals we now have only three years left to achieve. It is time to review the Strategy.

An iconic project included in the Strategy and championed by people like the late Murial Jones, Kathy Sheldrake, Phil Evans and Richard Coates is the Wainui-Sponge Bay cycleway. This project is designed to make it safer for commuter cyclists coming from Wainui and recreational cyclists from the city to get in and out on, particularly given the rapid increase in heavy vehicles on State Highway 35. We expect a funding decision on this project within the next month.

The Gisborne Cycling Advisory Group was established a couple of years ago and has made some great contributions to cycle route planning in both the urban and rural areas. Focused largely on commuter and tourist cyclists, the group meets monthly and is open to anyone keen on advocating for cycling infrastructure and encouraging the public to cycle more.

As a recent Australian report on the economic benefits of cycling reveals, bicycle travel cuts millions off the national waist line and bottom line. Inactivity is now a major cause of health problems and cycling provides a practical, sustainable and cheap opportunity to help get more Kiwis active and drive down the cost of health care.

Of course the more cyclists there are, the safer it becomes – and while we may be seeing a national trend away from commuter cycling, most Gisborne city residents have few excuses not to cycle or walk to work. The city is relatively compact, very flat, enjoys a good climate and has an ever increasing number of cycleways. It has been great to see so many people on bikes this summer, how can we encourage even more to make the move?

Petrobras Wall of Shame 2011-2012

I’ve decided to keep a running record of a few of the serious incidents Petrobras has been associated with in the last year or two – these are just the ones we hear about…

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FEB 2012:

– 30 barrels spilt from a Petrobras rig off Rio on 13/2/12.

JAN 2012:

160 barrels of oil leaked from Petrobras platform offshore from Sao Paulo

DEC 2011:

– Brazilian navy fuel barge sinks in Antarctica with 63 barrels of Petrobras produced fuel onboard, incident hidden by four government ministries responsible for the Antarctic mission

– death of another Petrobras employee and injury of two others in a Boxing Day accident on the PUB-03 oil rig in offshore waters in Rio Grande do Norte state, northeast Brazil

fire on the same day at its Duque de Caxias oil refinery in Rio de Janeiro are just the latest in a series of deadly incidents and accidents earlier in the year. The refinery is already the subject of a criminal investigation launched by the Federal Police Department of Environment and Heritage after tests carried out by technicians from the State Environmental Institute (INEA) and the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-RJ) on a nearby river found high levels of pollutants during December 2010 and in August of this year. A spokesperson for the Police said the material dumped in the river violated the limits set by environmental law.

NOVEMBER 2011:

–      a spill from a project co-owned by Petrobras and Chevron spewed 3,000 barrels of oil into the sea and took a week to get under control. Local government authorities have taken a civil lawsuit against the polluters claiming US$11billion in damages.

AUGUST 2011:

a Petrobras worker was killed and his colleague badly disfigured from a refinery explosion in Argentina that was similar to another fatal accident two years earlier.

MARCH 2011:

– A major incident in the Gulf of Mexico involved a deep sea riser coming loose with a 130 tonne buoy narrowly missing another rig as the company prepared to start the first new extraction since the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Had the break happened a few days later when oil had started pumping, analysts claim it could have resulted in a disaster similar to the BP oil leak in 2010.

DEC 2011:

An article in the Washington Post quoted engineers worried about the risks of a technology still being tested. Ricardo Cabral de Azevedo, a petroleum reservoir engineer at the University of Sao Paulo who has done research for oil companies in the US, said the industry is worried about the ultimate fail-safe: the blowout preventer, a complex device that slices through pipe to instantly cap a well in a disaster. At BP’s Macondo field, the BOP, as it is known in the industry, suffered compound failures. Azevedo said companies may be pushing the bounds of technology by going deeper than 2,500m or more of water (as is the case in parts of the Raukumara Basin). “It is a problem because all the equipment has to go to higher pressure, and higher pressure may cause failure,” Azevedo said of the BOP. “We really don’t know if it will function.”

Playing Russian Roulette with the Select Committee

 

A Gisborne District Councillor has told the Select Committee considering a bill that would regulate the Exclusive Economic Zone that the government was playing Russian Roulette with coastal communities.

Manu Caddie, one of 129 submitters on the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Bill, was speaking to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee today when he explained that oiled debris from the Rena was now washing up on Gisborne city beaches and a “one pager” of rules for EEZ exploration applications was grossly insufficient.

Mr Caddie said the Bill does not provide details on what the new regulations will be, resources to clean up anything but a minor spill are non-existent and the public should have input on the detail of rules governing exploration and extraction in the EEZ.

“If the Interim Impact Assessment Guidelines become the requirements within the EEZ Act then they omit detailed baseline sampling of the current state of the area where the activity is proposed” said Mr Caddie. “How can contamination be proven if no baseline sampling is provided beforehand? The wording at present is very vague and should be more prescriptive.

Mr Caddie also pointed out that an oil slick is no respecter of jurisdiction and will not stay within the EEZ.

“Local councils and iwi authorities should be given a veto power if there is enough local concern and support for such a position.”

Mr Caddie stressed that the proposed timeframes between when an application is received, must be notified, submissions made and hearings/decisions is far too short.

“Companies could work on an application for many years and communities will have less than three weeks to read, analyse and respond to complex technical reports, Impact Assessments, financial calculations and other application details – so the timeframes should be more like 3-6 months for submissions.”

In response to a question from Labour List MP Moana Mackey, Mr Caddie said he was very concerned about the imbalance in resources.  Mining companies have “bottomless pockets” compared to the councils and communities that will be affected by an application according to Mr Caddie who represents the Gisborne City Ward and is on the committee of a marae near Ruatoria. “The Government needs to provide public resources and expertise, such as university and CRIs, to councils, iwi and communities that wish to make submissions on an EEZ application” said Mr Caddie.

“All the best practice in the world will not be able to ensure deep sea drilling doesn’t go wrong – the Government is playing Russian Roulette with our coastal area. Rena, Montara and Deepwater Horizon have proven there does not exist the technology or resources to contain anything but a minor spill very close to shore under perfect marine conditions.”

Mr Caddie suggested if the Committee had read the report by the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon disaster they would know it had identified serious systemic problems within the petroleum exploration industry that have still not been addressed. Many of the same companies involved with the Deepwater Horizon spill are active in the burgeoning New Zealand exploration industry.

Mr Caddie said the safety record of applicants needs to be considered carefully and pointed out that Brazilian oil giant Petrobras has had two significant oil spills since November and two workers killed and a number seriously injured in the last six months alone. One of the spills has seen the companies involved taken to court by local authorities for $11billion. BP is in court this month trying to limit their liability to $30-40b and otherwise could face $100b.

Green MP Gareth Hughes asked Mr Caddie if a climate change clause should be included and Mr Caddie agreed with that the suggestion that climate change impacts should be considered for all applications under the proposed legislation.

A Turning Tide?

It seems the tide is turning.

The Dominon Post reports that over 300 people participated in a protest on Wednesday in Napier organised by local farmers to coincide with the Apache presentation to the Hawkes Bay Regional Council. Concerned residents in Hawkes Bay have a long and growing list of questions they would like answered by the companies and councils involved. Until satisfactory assurances are provided by independent experts, these citizens and ratepayers are saying they don’t want fracking to happen in their region.

Yesterday I received a copy of the letter from the Christchurch City Council dated 16 January 2012 to the Minister of Energy and Resources requesting a moratorium on fracking until an independent inquiry is completed into the practice. The resolution in the Council was passed 10 votes (including Mayor Bob Parker) to 2.

In the last month more jurisdictions around the world including a number of local authorities in Ireland and the country of Bulgaria have joined France, South Africa, New York State and dozens of smaller authorities across North America in establishing a moratorium or banning fracking completely. Many of these decisions have been endorsed by the local chambers of commerce, medical boards, oil and gas commissions and water catchment boards.

The Labour Party has this week suggested Parliament instigates a ‘robust inquiry’ into the practice in New Zealand – either by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment or the Environmental Protection Agency. Unlike the recent report on fracking released by Taranaki Regional Council, the Terms of Reference for such a study would need wide agreement from experts across a range of disciplines and be at arms length from the legislators, regulators and industry.

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: www.oecd.org/dataoecd/55/5/48786631.pdf 

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. 

East Coast Fracking Questions Register

This is a list of questions relating to the Apache/TAG exploration plans for the East Coast that I will try to post answers for – feel free to ask any other questions in the Comments Box below to add to the list.

The responses are my understanding at the time of writing and do not necessarily reflect GDC or anyone else’s opinion or position.

The staff report on the proposed visit is available here.

A discussion on Radio NZ Morning Report (23/1/12) about the trip is available here.

– – – –

1. Who is the GDC staff member going on the trip to Canada?

Trevor Freeman, Manager of Environmental Services and District Soil Conservator is the staff member that his manager is recommending for the trip. Trevor’s participation is yet to be confirmed, it is a recommendation to the full Council meeting on 26 January and councillors may decide he should not go or that GDC should fund it without Apache assistance.

– – – –

2. How are they and GDC going to manage the moral/ethical pressure (subconscious as well as conscious) of being beholden to the oil company that is hosting-paying for them to make such a trip? 

The itinerary will be on the public record once confirmed – and is in fact still open if people have suggested contacts that the group could visit near Calgary, Fort St John and Victoria, BC. Trevor will provide a full report to Council on his return and is expected to establish contacts with regulators and other stakeholders in Canada that should be broader than just those arranged by Apache Corp. By definition subconscious pressure will be difficult to manage, but staff understand that Apache Corp. representatives will be at only a  few of the meetings scheduled – probably only the meetings with their Canadian staff. 

– – –

3. Why to Canada and these parts of Canada in particular?

British Columbia seems to be the area that Apache is most active in fracking – including in 2010 the largest frack job ever completed at that time. It seems sensible to make contact with people there who have seen the impacts firsthand and establish some ongoing connections between us and them as a way to share learning, experience, policies, concerns, etc.

– – – –
4. Why is this money being accepted by GDC for just one individual to travel all that way to look at a few examples and talk to just a few people in the world when there’s masses and masses of information and research available to many and from all points of view?

GDC can and will still access as much of the reliable information available online and from various academic and independent sources as it comes to hand. This is an opportunity to see the impacts firsthand, to build networks and build the capacity of GDC staff to understand the process which our district has no previous experience with. I am working on a primer on fracking that collates the most compelling peer-reviewed evidence against the practice to share with my colleagues and the public – assistance with this project would be appreciated!

– – – –
5. What could be achieved by the money being used for a panel of widely respected district people (Council, Iwi, other community interests) to independently review all available information and report to the district on all the issues as they apply to the East Coast (and if necessary, interview people by skype, define what trips to observe directly should be made by whom about what)?

This could also be something GDC require Apache to fund as part of any new consents application. Apache has reportedly invested $100million in the project, so they should support a robust investigation process by NZ regulators and the public, and their representatives have made public comments to that effect. 

– – – –

6. What is GDC’s logic and rationale for a geotechnical / soil conservation staff member going?

Most of the resource consent applications will relate to disturbance of the soil and discharge to land – there is also likely be water take and possibly discharge to air consent applications and the individual going to Canada is responsible for all these areas as Manager of Environmental Services.

– – – –

7. Who initated this oil-company funded trip?

I understand it was recently proposed by the company to staff from the three councils involved (Gisborne District Council, Hawkes Bay Regional Council and Horizons Council). 

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8. What and whose purposes and intent is the trip designed to serve?

My understanding, based on the report going to Council this week, is that the trip is designed to help build the knowledge of GDC staff in relation to Apache Corp. operations in Canada and the regulatory framework employed by Canadian authorities. I guess the company hopes the visit will reassure Council staff who work on behalf of their residents and ratepayers that Apache Corp. is a socially and environmentally responsible company that is regarded with respect in the areas of Canada it operates. My support for the trip will be because it enables our staff to also have direct contact with environmentalists, First Nations representatives, politicians and regulators who may have concerns and even direct opposition to Apache Corp. activities.

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9. What alternative uses of $ oil company offering for: research / review / staff training / were debated/considered – if any?

The trip is seen as a valuable learning opportunity for staff. It is expected that the costs will be between $3-5k and these will be incurred by GDC and then reimbursed by the company. Further staff training, research and reviews will definitely be required and may be funded as part of any consent application and/or funded by Gisborne ratepayers, central government and possibly academic institutions – like Auckland University that next month is hosting a visiting researcher from Duke University that has published papers documenting the dangers of fracking.

– – – – –

– – – – –

I’ve asked Apache/TAG Oil and GDC staff to comment on the following questions and will post responses if/when they provide them:

What environmental and public health risk assessments are being undertaken before drilling is finally scheduled, and by whom?

What insurance cover will be in effect, covering landowners and GDC, to cover loss of potable water supply due to petroleum contamination, land erosion etc.?

Is a survey of water supply catchment significance, in relation to proposed drilling sites being undertaken?

What would be the proposed method for handling drilling water flowback and drilling waste disposal, bearing in mid the hazardous chemical nature of oil shale or oil source rock detritus?

What engineering measures would be envisaged to prevent long-term corrosion and seismic shock damage to well casing which could result in petro-chemical contamination of aquifers?

What fracking chemicals are expected to be used for oil shale work: BTEX volatiles, barium, diesel oil?

What fracking pressures would you expect to be used if working into oil shale?

At Whakatutu, where do you anticipate that the high volumes of drilling water needed will be obtained from?

Will the well borers used by Tag/Apache test completed cement casing, if ‘yes’, what is the method of testing?

To what depth would bore cementation be taken, from the surface and how many steel liners would be used to below waster aquifer depth?

Would you anticipate using ponding areas for storing flowback water etc. at the drilling site?

If commercial quantities of gas or oil are found, what would be the means for transporting the gas/oil from the drilling site and to where?

Aquifer water in the vicinity of drilling sites should be pre-tested for petroleum contaminants prior to commencement of drilling and reasonably frequently after drilling.This testing should, ideally, be undertaken by an organisation unrelated commercially to the petroleum industry?

In view of the fact that drilling operations are subject to material failures, human error, faulty cement injection and seismic shock damage, what assurance can the petroleum industry give that aquifer contamination will not occur as a result of such factors?

Does Tag Oil/Apache acknowledge that deep drilling and fracking can result in earthquake shocks, as acknowledged by the USA Geological Survey after the series of shocks experienced last year in Northern Dakota, also at a Cuadrilla Ltd. Drilling site near Blackpool, in England, as acknowledged by the U.K. Geological Survey?

In view of the fact that deep drilling and fracking can cause earthquake shocks, is a survey of faultlines being undertaken across the proposed drilling area, in relation to possible earthquake shock generation? ( Ref: Deep drilling and high-pressure injection caused a series of earthquake shock in the Denver, Colorado area, between 1961 and 1966, when toxic chemicals were being disposed of underground, the disposal method then being abandoned due to the earthquakes).

Sightseeing Canadian Fracking

Apache said they planned to sell about $1b worth of assets in Canada last year to free up finances required for other activities.

– – –
The Sunday Star Times and Stuff ran an article today that was quite incorrect in it’s main point [now corrected on the Stuff vesion]. It’s not councillors that are going – just one staff member each from three councils, which is what I told the SST reporter via my original email:
“Council staff from the three East Coast councils are planning a trip to Canada to visit Apache operations from 3-13th February, Apache is paying the costs of this trip. The delegation is able to set their own agenda so we’re trying to set up some meetings with environmentalists, First Nations representatives and regulators who may be different to the ones Apache organises.”
I’m not sure why the reporter decided to say it is councillors going.
Anyway, I trust our council staff member who is planning to go and report back – we can suggest contacts for the delegation to meet with so some of these might be worthwhile:

The delegation plan to visit Calgary, Victoria and Fort St John in British Columbia – so let us know urgently if there are any other contacts that may be good to meet with in these areas.

We can also send any questions on to Apache Corp. representative Alex Ferguson who has said the company will answer as best they can.

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.

Councillor welcomes CCC decision to request govt moratorium on fracking

Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie is welcoming news that the Christchurch City Council yesterday agreed to call on the government to put a moratorium in place until a full independent inquiry has been conducted.

Mr Caddie said it was encouraging to see the first local authority take a precautionary approach on the issue given the lack of knowledge about the practice in New Zealand.

“Glaring gaps in a report released last month by the Taranaki Regional Council that was supposed to reassure the public on the safety of fracking simply reinforced growing concerns about the practice” said Mr Caddie.

Recent reports from the United States Geological Survey[1] and a fracking company in the UK that confirm the link between earthquakes and hydraulic fracturing have raised serious concerns about the practice worldwide.

“The TRC report provides no independent scientific evidence on the safety of the practice in relation to seismic activity, nor does it provide information on the rate of well casing failures and provides little detail on waste management and disposal options” said Mr Caddie.

Mr Caddie said he is waiting to hear back from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment who is considering requests to undertake an independent inquiry into fracking.

“We need that inquiry to also consider the bigger picture questions of how oil and gas compare to coal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions as there are conflicting reports[2] on which fossil fuels contribute more to climate change.”

Mr Caddie said he hopes the Christchurch City Council decision will put pressure on the government to put a moratorium in place similar to what South Africa has at present – or it could follow France and ban the practice outright in favour of renewable energy sources.

“Apache Corporation claims France banned fracking to protect its nuclear industry but the French government has suggested it may no longer source electricity from nuclear power as early as 2040″ [3] said Mr Caddie.

NZ business leaders for low-carbon economy and against deep sea oil drilling

Rob Morrison returned to New Zealand after retiring as the Chairman and Chief Executive of Hong Kong-based brokerage, investment banking and private equity group CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets and this year was appointed Chairman of Kiwibank.

Recently Mr Morrison suggested the potential worth of the global low carbon economy is around six trillion dollars. He also highlighted New Zealand’s dismal economic slide over the past two decades, not to mention the growing gap between New Zealand’s 100% Pure brand and reality.

Mr Morrison said the past is not an accurate guide to a successful future for New Zealand and we can’t rely on doing things the way we have done in the past if we want to ensure New Zealand has a prosperous future.

He described the National-led government’s recently released energy policy prioritising fossil fuel production as “based on the premise that we can have our cake and eat it too.” Instead of drilling offshore for oil, we should explore alternatives, he said.

New Zealand’s slogan is 100% Pure. Not sort of, not maybe. We better make damn sure we are 100% Pure, Morrison said, or our exports could go down the gurgler.

Morrison suggested the shift towards a low carbon economy in places like China is being driven by energy requirements, pollution, environmental degradation and population concerns.

By looking after our environment and pursuing a low carbon economy, we invest in skills, technology and Intellectual Property that will be worth plenty in the global market.

It’s not just Mr Morrison saying this stuff – he has joined an impressive list of his business peers in The Pure Advantage Trust including Chris Liddell (recently Vice Chair of General Motors), Geoff Ross (Founder, 42 Below Ltd), Sir George Fistonich (Founder, Villa Maria Estate), Jeremy Moon (Managing Director, Icebreaker), Joan Withers (Chair, Mighty River Power & Auckland International Airport), Justine Smyth (Deputy Chair, NZ Post), Lloyd Morrison (Executive Chairman, H.R.L. Morrison & Co.), Sir Paul Callaghan (New Zealander of the Year), Phillip Mills (2004 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year), Rob Fyfe (CEO, Air New Zealand) and Sir Stephen Tindall (Founder, The Warehouse).

Phillip Mills believes our leaders need listen to the results of the 3 News Reid Research poll that rated the environment as the number one issue among voters and to become far more aspirational. Mr Mills said “The time for change is now and we call on New Zealand’s politicians to show bold leadership.

He said there are few countries on Earth that have the opportunities and advantages that we do. We need to diversify from our commodity export-based economic strategy.

There is little doubt that our farmers will benefit from increasing global demand for protein, but relying too heavily on this leaves us vulnerable to the threat of lower cost competition and the swings and roundabouts of a global economy likely to become increasingly volatile.

New Zealand’s environmental credentials and economic prosperity can be simultaneously improved through a strategy whereby government commits to R&D, investment incentives and the development of a workforce skilled in the jobs required for low-carbon industry.

Pure Advantage recently commissioned a group of world-leading economists to review New Zealand’s green growth opportunities and make recommendations as to how we can build a greener, wealthier nation. They plan to release the group’s findings early next year.

I am looking forward to seeing how aligned East Coast voter decisions are with the vision and priorities being espoused by this group of leading entrepreneurs and successful exporters.

Fracked Facts

I AGREE with John Pfahlert (October 22) that democracy is great, it means people have the power to determine what does and doesn’t happen in their community. The people who depend on particular land and water resources have a right to decide what happens to them and Mr Pfalert may be disappointed that local opposition has almost nothing to do with the general election.
While this oil and gas lobbyist tries to paint legitimate concern from affected residents as the work of “zealots”, the Gisborne residents’ petition simply asks the council not to allow any fracking to proceed before an independent report on the practice is presented to Parliament by the Commissioner for the Environment.
A number of local councils in the US have banned fracking recently, and subsequently been subject to lawsuits from the industry. It will be interesting to see what happens if Gisborne District Council decides to ban it.
Mr Pfahlert says 40 wells have been fracked in Taranaki and the Taranaki Regional Council requires a resource consent before fracking can be undertaken. He omitted the fact that TRC have only required a resource consent for fracking since July of this year! Only after TRC were challenged by locals did the council seek legal advice, which came back that it should require consents.
Mr Pfahlert also claims that “there has been no pollution of water or land in Taranaki from the discharge of fracking fluids”. But TRC has acknowledged no one tested the water when the casing on a fracking well (now owned by TAG Oil) ruptured underground a few years ago. Two “power fluid’’ leaks have been confirmed under the farmland of families locked in an ongoing dispute with a TAG Oil subsidiary.
Similarly, TRC stopped monitoring for some contaminants on land where fracking waste had been spread, and an OIA request suggested the council doesn’t even know which chemicals are being used by some operators.
Mr Pfahlert says almost all Taranaki fracking occurs “at least 2.5km below the surface” and “water producing bores in Taranaki are rarely deeper than 400m and most are shallower than 250m”.
TAG Oil however confirm that they are fracking at depths of 1400-1800 metres. TAG also says the rock fractures up to 915 metres in any direction — much closer to aquifers than Mr Pfalert’s claim that the fractures extend only “a few tens of metres from the well bore”. I think they need to agree on what their “facts” are!
Mr Pfahlert admits that many of the additives used in fracturing are toxic and says they are usually no more than 2 percent of the fracking fluid. Most fracking wells use 2-6 million litres of water — so they are using 40,000 to 120,000 litres of chemical concentrates.
Given that fracking is a new practice here with no independent scientific studies, and it seems sparse regulation and limited monitoring, we should also look overseas to where the practice has been happening for some time.
In a recent study commissioned by the European Parliament, scientists concluded that “at a time when sustainability is key to future operations, it can be questioned whether the injection of toxic chemicals in the underground should be allowed . . . as long-term effects are not investigated”.
An independent study commissioned by British fracking consortium Cuadrilla Resources, published this month, confirmed their fracking operation caused a series of earthquakes along the Lancashire coastline earlier this year. Cuadrilla is now holding urgent talks with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), after the British Geological Survey’s conclusion that the two tremors were most likely caused by nearby fracking.
So yes Mr Pfahlert, let’s have a debate based on the facts please.

Glass off roads and footpaths

As a commuter cyclist I share the frustration of UPSET CYCLIST (18 October) about the amount of broken glass on our city roads and as a parent and neighbour I’ve seen too many local kids with cut feet from glass on footpaths and verges.

We know it is almost exclusively intoxicated people who drop or throw their empty bottles while walking to or from a drinking session. Fines rarely work because few residents who care are on the streets late at night to catch the offenders. More rubbish or recycling bins would also be fairly ineffective as being a tidy Kiwi is usually the last thing on the drinker’s mind.

RTDs being sold only in plastic bottles could be something we ask council staff to work on with other councils, central government, producers and local outlets.

Littering issues are a big part of what Gisborne District Council’s environmental health educator teaches school students, with recycling being promoted as the best alternative. Nurturing in young children a sense of responsibility for keeping our home and wider community clean is a challenge but not impossible.

If broken glass is reported to Council it enters the Request for Service system and is picked up by a contractor. It would be great if all of us could commit to checking our street on Sundays as paying someone to drive across town to pick up one bottle doesn’t make much sense.

New Plymouth District Council has a very successful Community Champions (CC) programme. A Community Liaison Officer supports volunteers who are constantly working their magic around the district picking up rubbish and credits these CCs for helping to prevent broken glass in their public places and on roads. The programme is thriving – initially with a goal to get 25 CCs it now boasts 88 and the number continues to grow. NPDC liquor bylaws also prevent liquor being consumed in a number of public places beyond the CBD and within six months of coming into place, are credited with reducing the amount of glass litter by 34%.

Returning empty beverage containers for recycling and reuse has become a way of life for South Australians, resulting in the state being known as the cleanest and tidiest in Australia. The container deposit legislation (CDL) is said to enjoy overwhelming public and community support. For over 30 years, South Australia was the only state or territory in Australia with container deposit legislation. However in 2010 the Northern Territory Government announced plans to implement its own scheme by the end of 2011. Based on the South Australian model, it will be a 10-cent refund for containers, similar to those covered by SA’s legislation. This is another option we could look at with central government and producers.

Picking up glass is something people with court ordered community hours could do for the community. They would have to be supervised but this would only need to be checking the areas were clean.

Keep Gisborne Beautiful has done some great work in particularly problem spots and along with GDC and Tairāwhiti Environment Centre the organisations are looking at ways to expand KGB initiatives – the New Plymouth scheme will be part of these discussions, so anyone interested with ideas or keen to volunteer can contact Council.

If all of the above fails, someone suggested to me that, like the tagging wall idea, we establish a space to legitimately take glass to smash it for therapeutic purposes as they have in some factories overseas!

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.

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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.

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.

High score in bad stuff nothing to be proud of…

A high ranking for New Zealand in the Fraser Institute survey that Acting Minister of Energy and Resources Hekia Parata has been celebrating is nothing to be proud of. If any of the news agencies had bothered to read the survey instead of reprinting her media release they would have read what questions were asked of the industry respondents and what their answers were.

Basically jurisdictions (8 of the top 10 are states of the USA) get high rankings if they have comparatively low levels of royalties and taxes being paid to government, a ‘flexible’ and unorganised labour market and a permissible regulatory regime that does not impose additional costs on the companies. A good example of the latter would be signing off a permit to drill an exploratory well with no requirement to present an Assessment of Environmental Effects, emergency response plan or other health and safety information as Minister Brownlee did for the Raukumara Basin.

New Zealand’s score was no doubt boosted by the certainty factors around the predictability of the regulatory environment, the stability of the government and judiciary and wider socio-economic indicators – we should be proud of these particular factors that also make investment that is environmentally and socially responsible here more attractive.

“Disputed land claims—the uncertainty of unresolved claims made by aboriginals, other groups, or individuals” is one of the 17 factors the survey covers and the labour market questions the ‘militancy of labour’ and ‘local hiring requirements’. In other words, petroleum investors do not like the idea of indigenous people disputing ownership rights in areas like the EEZ that have not been tested in court, do not like strong unions and want to be able to hire the cheapest labour they can from anywhere in the world.

The jurisdictions that tend to do worse in the survey rankings are those that have stronger environmental regulations, more protected wilderness areas, fairer employment legislation and a bigger cut of the profits from resource extraction actually staying with the country the resources are taken from!

Feedback from the industry representatives who completed the survey include comments like: “Excellent investment conditions but difficult geology” and the $4m taxpayer subsidy for geotechnical data provided to the petroleum industry is also noted: “Great fiscal terms, political stability, and free and full access to all geoscience data.”

In any case, as a regular publisher of dubious ‘reports’ encouraging skepticism about the contribution of human activity in climate change, the risks of smoking and problems associated with nuclear energy, the Fraser Institute can hardly be considered an independent source of research. The organisation is well known in Canada as an extreme right wing lobby group, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from oil companies like ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, the company fined $30 million by the EPA for its role in 300 oil spills that resulted in more than ten million litres of crude oil leaking into ponds, lakes, streams and coastal waters.

So the report is just a glossy whine from the oil and gas lobby. We already know that mining corporations wouldn’t care at all about the environment if citizens and government didn’t force them to. The fact that they’re whining about it is not news.