Gareth Hughes

Government slow to act on Rena highlights oil drilling risks

by Gareth Hughes

As oil hits the shore I’d like to salute the hundreds of people working very hard to contain the spill and volunteers registering to clean up the beaches.

It’s a deeply worrying situation especially with a severe weather warning issued.

The Government and petroleum industry have gone on the defensive over the speed of the response. When I was in Tauranga over the weekend I detected genuine frustration at the perceived lack of government action and locals were angry that the fine, settled weather was being squandered. A Stuff internet poll of over 4000 people found less than 12% of respondents thought the Government had done a good job so far. Nearly 18% said the response was slow but improving but almost 59% said they had been too slow to act. It’s galling for many given Key moved incredibly fast when it came to an Auckland fanzone and surveillance legislation but not with this environmental crisis.

The slow response should be a wake-up call for New Zealand’s deep-sea oil drilling plans.

The difficulty the Government is having to contain the oil spill from the Rena cargo ship demonstrates the enormous difficulty and expense we would face to contain a catastrophic deep sea oil leak. Given that New Zealand does not even have the local resources to contain the heavy fuel oil from the stranded cargo ship Rena, it is clear we would suffer horrendous environmental and economic consequences if a deep water oil well had a problem, as happened in the exploratory well in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Yet the Government is encouraging deep sea oil drilling: giving tax breaks, as well as subsidies in free geotechnical information to oil companies, and has already granted permits for deep sea oil exploration and drilling.

Obviously an oil well spill and a ship oil leak are two different things but they both put oil into our environment and the Rena demonstrates the challenges a small country faces dealing with an oil spill. Accidents happen and the risk to our clean green brand isn’t worth it.

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Gareth Hughes on Mon, October 10th, 2011   

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