The Southland Times' front page "cargo cult" celebration of Shell's announcement to drill resulted in three letters to the Editor on the Friday following. I thought that I should follow up on the brief quotes that the paper published from me with a little more information and it was a pleasant surprise to find that other writers from around the province shared my concerns.
Here they are, in the order published:
Risk of loss is ours, the profit is theirs
"We're gonna Drill' or is it 'Drill, baby, drill"?
Your front page story (January 8) was hardly an example of unbiased reporting. Filling the page with a photograph of clear blue water and sky and then positioning a tidy image of a single drilling rig established a hearty "can do" tone for this gas hunt.
The story itself was sourced almost entirely from the point of view of the oil company's spokesperson. One sentence at the end presents the other side of the coin. In that sentence every individual person capable of understanding and acknowledging the enormous risk associated with this venture is scooped together and tagged as an environmentalist. They must not have a spokesperson - perhaps that's because common sense doesn't have a PR guy.
Exploratory drilling is one of the most dangerous phases of extraction. The drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was exploratory, and we saw the economic and environmental devastation caused when that went wrong. Even a small spill/leak can turn into a major crisis when there is no support infrastructure in place. maritime new Zealand is ill-equipped to effectively respond to an accident.
There must be some public fear because Tim Shadbolt is hoping it will be allayed through the knowledge that things are working so well in Taranaki, where they are drilling in 100 metres of water 35 km off the shore, as opposed to drilling in 1350 metres of turbulent waters 150 km off the southern shore.
We can only hope nothing catastrophic happens while we await the riches to pour into our province as we are assured they will, eventually in ten years' time or so, if the company decides to base its operations in Bluff rather than Dunedin.
The risk of loss is ours. The risk of profit is theirs.
Gold Rush Mentality
I found the enthusiasm and celebration of Shell’s announcement in Wednesday’s paper rather disconcerting.
It appears that we have not lost the gold rush mentality of believing in the possibility of sudden riches. We have only just seen the demise of Solid Energy and the end of their lignite dreams. The mothballed lignite briquetting plant is a $29 million monument to the folly of not listening to good advice and being blinded by slick corporate presentations.
Deep sea drilling is a risky enterprise and our southern waters are not the easiest to work in, as Hunt Petroleum discovered some years ago. We cannot compare the Taranaki situation with the Great South Basin. The drilling in Taranaki is in water with a depth of around 100 metres, but Shell will be working at a depth of over 1,300 metres. The risks increase with the depth of water.
We have no experience of regulating deep sea drilling and providing effective oversight. I do not have the same comfort in self-regulation as this Government does (the lessons of Pike River and our forest industry still resonate).
Maritime New Zealand struggled to manage the Rena disaster (which cost the country $50 million) and does not have the capacity to deal with even a moderate oil rig accident. It would take over a month to bring in a capping stack and up to 100 days to get a relief rig if they were necessary. Even a small accident would have serious consequences if we can’t respond in a timely fashion and we (as in the Government and taxpayers) will probably carry the majority of the costs, not the oil company.
We still have great potential in existing Southland industries, surely we should be investing in becoming better at what we already do well rather than still chasing that elusive gold.
Business as usual
What rotten luck that Otago-Southland is going to have a great offshore oilfeild exploration programme.
Just as the world is freaking out about climate change and wasteful resource depletion, it is still business as usual in the oil-hungry global market place.
But at some point there will be a quantum shift when the madness has to end.
Don't expect any warning. It's likely to come like a thief in the night. Politically speaking it's something not even science fiction has prepared us for.
If you are observant you will note top scientists agree this will happen but don't agree on when.
But they do agree that drilling for hypo-carbons in dangerous situations will not be the priority it once was.
In the mean time our region seems comfortably tucked away from current planetary physics in a sort of 19th Century bubble; a magical place where all our natural resources seem to be illuminated with little dollar signs and there are no important consequences to actions of the great and powerful.
Or as the Green Party would say: La La Land.