A precautionary tale

Following is an extract from Hansard, recording an exchange I had with energy Minister Hekia Parata back in April.  The question was asked at a time when iwi, hapu, environmental groups and others were trying to persuade the government that issuing permits for deep water drilling is a bad idea.

David Clendon: What is the Government’s contingency plan if there is a catastrophic oil spill or leak resulting from exploratory drilling?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Maritime New Zealand is responsible for ensuring that New Zealand is prepared for, and able to respond to, marine oil spills. The Marine Pollution Response Service consists of internationally respected experts, who manage and train a team of about 400 local, Government, and Maritime New Zealand responders.

I didn’t find that particularly reassuring at the time, and find it much less so now given what is happening off Tauranga. We know some smart and dedicated people, both professionals and volunteers,  are working desperately hard trying to avert a major disaster, but so far we have seen just how little capacity we have to manage an accident.

Nobody ever wants an oil spill anywhere in the marine environment, but in terms of acccess and ability to respond,  the location and timing of this spill could have been a great deal worse.  The vessel ran aground on a reef scarcely 20km from Tauranga, one of our largest, busiest and most modern ports.  It occurred in calm weather, and was known about almost immediately. Yet we have still struggled to bring together the necessary expertise and hardware to deal quickly  with the crisis.

How much worse would the situation be if we were to allow deepwater off shore drilling, which the Energy Minister and her government are so eager to do, and an accident occurred a long way offshore in foul weather.

The American response to the Gulf of Mexico disaster involved hundreds of vessels, and many thousands of  military, civilian and volunteer personnel.  It also required a second rig to drill the relief well that ultimately enabled the stemming of the oil flow into the waters of the Gulf.

New Zealand does not and will never have that sort of capacity.  The oil companies will resist having to take responsibility to provide it.

There will always be accidents at sea that threaten our coastlines, wildlife and the livelihoods of people who rely on the marine resource.  We need to continually assess and reassess the risks of such accidents and put in place appropriate safeguards and countermeasures.

To knowingly invite and even encourage deep water drilling, an activity that we know is highly likely to cause problems entirely beyond our ability to resolve them, would be reckless in the extreme.  I hope that the reality of having to deal with the Rena incident will cause the government to think again about our energy future in the interests of our environmental and economic wellbeing.

9 Comments Posted

  1. Mark – if a sonar mapping blast triggered the Japanese earthquake, then it was bound to have happened anyway. Another earthquake would have set it off if it didn’t go off by itself. The longer the delay, the bigger the ‘quake when it does happen.


  2. Ah so Bj;! Time to send ’em up trees – I got easier stuff than shoelaces to figger on.
    Yes I’m still missing Happy Feet, but not the ignorance that killed him.

    A doctor who had retired to the West Coast of Ireland – found a Penguin on the beach – apparently it now sits in a lounge chair – prefers Classical Music – I wonder if his Ma gets the odd concerto at forty fathoms…

    Although footwear can be a very telling feature – I recently got a Medical Diagnosis from the local Hospital based upon my footwear.
    (whew! it was only a heart attack).
    Lucky eh?

    No – I’m more intrigued by the other end of ‘umanity – what goes on twixt the ears? I suspect in many cases they are stunted wings that is evidence of a prior ability to Fly, in many cases they serve as cooling vents for de Brian
    What falls out de mouf?…..when you shake ’em
    These are the great scientifix questions we face (bravely)

    There’s something missing from the Kiwi cure – attatch a tail and send ’em back up into trees, where they came from…home to mom and da’.
    Shoelaces don’t ruin my mornings sometimes.

    No matter – the boys and me just go out and Tazer some bugger we don’t
    like the look of – keeps the Sarge happy

    Are you going to the Gnacts seminar on how to run away and smile at the sane time?

    I’ll be the one in bare feet – effin shoelaces!

  3. Photonz – you are surely aware that Green policy is for us to live sustainably, which means not using OTHER people’s oil either. Go fling your strawmen somewhere else.


  4. From my research, it seems that the method of looking for oil is comprehensively greater than finding it.

    At the time of the Asiatic tsunami I managed to find a Map of BHP’s sonar research ships – right at the epicentre (the page disappeared pdq)

    But firing sonic vibrations up to 45km(that’s the Depth they admit to) deep on an already unstable ocean floor?

    Seems like greed breeds blindness of a kind.

    Sonar is used in a ‘blast’ capacity to reach that deep.
    I suspect (but haven’t researched) that these devices must play havoc with the delicate sonar system whales (amongst others) use to navigate

    Gumboots and Jandals? – I am not much qualified to comment much about the Place of Religion in our society – except to say that there is an offshoot of Communism abroad ie; ‘What’s yours is Mine’

    Generally I’m not adverse to sharing – but when local youths used my Bible pages as great smoking papers – I was a little amazed. They had smoked right up to Deuteronomy before I discovered.

  5. David Clendon says “To knowingly invite and even encourage deep water drilling, …….. would be reckless in the extreme. ”

    Far better to get some OTHER country to take those risks for oil WE use.

    Then some of us can masquerade that we’re clean and green.

  6. Worse too, in that in addition to our vulnerability to a problem with a rig offshore, we are on very shaky ground, in ways that the Gulf of Mexico is not. Even without making ANY human errors, a rig may be torn apart and the well ruptured… and that would be the beginning of long nightmare. Good plan National. We can make a quick buck. We trust to luck and National because… well…

    … actually there isn’t one fncking reason in the world to trust National …and inviting Murphy to play nursemaid to our effort to perforate an undersea oil reservoir in an earthquake zone is not a decision likely to be made by someone competent to tie their own shoes.


    [observing with dismay the popularity of gumboots and jandals]

  7. Hon HEKIA PARATA: Maritime New Zealand is responsible for ensuring that New Zealand is prepared for, and able to respond to, marine oil spills. The Marine Pollution Response Service consists of internationally respected experts, who manage and train a team of about 400 local, Government, and Maritime New Zealand responders.

    Nice to see we’re in good hands:

    The union released a statement today, claiming Maritime New Zealand found multiple deficiencies with the cargo vessel when it carried out an inspection on the ship in Bluff on September 28. […..] If MNZ was aware of the problems then it needed to explain why the Rena was allowed to sail on the New Zealand coast, the union’s general secretary Joe Fleetwood said. […..] Fleetwood said many of these deficiencies were similar to problems reported by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority during inspections of the Rena in Australia.

  8. Though never a good time for an oil spill, perhaps this would be an ideal time for a lessons learned process. Identify what check, balances and systems need to be in place for a bigger spill. Use this as a learining opportunity.

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