Government slow to act on Rena highlights oil drilling risks

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.

22 Comments Posted

  1. Guys – you lose credibility when you try to use disasters like this to push your other barrows. This is NOT analagous to deep sea drilling. ZenTiger’s comments about waiting for you to push for a coastal freight moratorium were spot on. Apparently everything that you approve of can have all its problems solved by regulation. Anything you don’t approve of needs to be banned, regardless of either risk or regulation.

    For a start, not all oil is created equal – gas condensate (for example) largely evaporates. I suspect that the environmental impacts of this leak, although bad, are more about perception than real damage.

  2. Why were not inflatable barges used to clear oil off the ship in the days of calm water and when will wool based booms be used to soak up oil?

  3. Well the Herald deems itself capable of giving the advice that something more should have been done than has been, and Gareth endorses that view as being a reasonable one. If both feel capable of offering those views, you’d expect that they have some idea of what, how and when this mysterious technical ‘something’ should have been done. Otherwise it is like the petulant rantings of a spoilt teen.

    The reality is no-one anywhere has the capacity to clean up a spill like this – to think otherwise is hubris. You either prevent it or you manage it. Managing means picking it up off the beaches, pumping it off the ship or breaking it up in the water so it enters the water column in small droplets. None of the latter will be cleaned up, and that is likely the bulk of the oil.

  4. “The NZ Herald says ‘something must be done’, so it must be true. What exactly should have been done and when? What equipment would have been needed and how would you have got it there?”

    You want the NZ Herald to give technical advice? Isn’t this the reason we employ experts? If we, or the NZ Herald, are not entitled to ask that the experts get moving on something unless we can spell exactly how they are supposed to do it, why bother having expertise?

    And if we don’t have the capacity to clean up an oil spill of this magnitude, shouldn’t we be making damn sure poorly maintained Flag of Convenience vessels don’t come into our waters in the first place?

  5. Apparently one day we will have some sort of oil spill response capability. Early this morning the Taranaki Daily News ran a story entitled Port in line for base to battle spill:

    New Plymouth is being lined up as the site of a multimillion-dollar
    facility designed to rapidly respond to major pollution incidents off
    the New Zealand coast.

    As Tauranga braces for what could be the country’s worst oil spill
    as the container ship Rena threatens to break apart, the Taranaki Daily
    News can reveal that talks are well advanced over development of a rapid response facility at Port Taranaki.

    I’m not holding my breath. What was Parata, Joyce and Key saying about us being able to deal with an oil spill as big as the Deepwater Horizon again?

    I was also wondering why non of the so called owners of the Rena are getting named in any of the articles quoting them? It’s always “a spokesperson said…” There is something seriously dodgy going on here.

  6. Oh yay. The NZ Herald says ‘something must be done’, so it must be true. What exactly should have been done and when? What equipment would have been needed and how would you have got it there?

    The Herald editorial writers can pontificate from his armchair, but the worst emergency he’s probably had to deal with is the temperature of his latte being a bit low. These are large scale logistical exercises that require a lot of planning, and only the largest ports will have equipment and personnel instantly able to respond.

    NZ is a small country -we don’t have the people or the money to instantly teleport bunkering vessels and shipborne cranes intoo place. It is silly to pretend we ever will and mischievous to demand such.

  7. There’s a scathing editorial in the NZ Herald today re the oil spill response:

    Transport Minister Steven Joyce and Prime Minister John Key sound as helpless as anyone.

    Yesterday, the Environmental Defence Society said, “New Zealand has more than 14,000km of coastline and some of the most important and biodiverse oceans in the world. We need world-class environmental standards and international best practice in oil spill management available at a moment’s notice. What we are seeing is not good enough.”

    Hear, hear.

  8. @bjchip 11:10 PM

    …was anyone actually assigned to it… ?

    There were meant to be 500 defence force personnel there yesterday morning, but it seems no-one could find them.

  9. Rena Cleanup Failures

    I felt pretty disgusted that authorities failed to stop children playing with the toxic oil that washed up on Bay of Plenty beaches early yesterday morning. It was simply outrageous that concerned citizens had to mount a cleanup, while authorities were conspicuous by their absence…

  10. I completely agree with Francis. there should be a law passed by the countries having the shores about the oil leakage from ships so that these water pollution could be stopped. Strict actions is to be taken against the peoples who are found faulty and endangering the lives of living organisms in water and polluting our environment.

  11. I hope the government will be hitting up the ship owners, or their insurers, with a bill for the costs of the defence staff being assigned to this

    …was anyone actually assigned to it… ?

  12. Even oil company insiders acknowledge the additional inherent risks in deep sea drilling. And NZ will only get a few cents per barrel in royalties and a few jobs in exchange for the risk of destroying the coastline. At least wait 5-10 years when petrol is $20 per litre to make it worthwhile.

  13. @ZenTiger 8:11 PM

    Difference is that the risks from coastal freighting can be largely mitigated by regulation and limited resourcing. Those from offshore drilling cannot. It would cost billions of dollars to mitigate the equivalent of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. If the oil company is prepared to pay for that (i.e. mitigating the possibility of such a disaster, not the clean-up following one), and abide by a strict regulatory regime, then okay by me.

    But if the taxpayer picks up the bill, or if regulation is lax as it is with coastal shipping, then it’s not on as far as I am concerned. Too much to be lost.

  14. As you say, drilling for oil and a freighter leak are two very different things. How about also calling for a complete moratorium on coastal freighting until we can be sure these kind of rare events wont happen again? The risks are just too great as the number of coastal freighters explode under Green advocacy.

  15. All these Ministers fronting up – Joyce, Key, Ryall – but none of them are prepared to do anything coz they’re not, um, prepared.

    Neoliberalism at its worst – let the market decide, and if it stuffs the marine, coastal and estuarine environment of the Bay of Plenty for years, the market will eventually deal with that too, regardless of how many fish, seabirds and other species have died.

  16. You are spot on about them being defensive. Trying to say this is completely different from deep water drilling. But an oil slick is an oil slick is an oil slick.

    But maybe they are right. It is different: Deep sea drilling would result in a much higher chance of an oil slick occurring.

  17. Just a heads up people. Please don’t touch the toxic oil that is washing up on Bay of Plenty Beaches with your bare skin.

    The Price of Oil

    Representatives from some of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world met in Wellington on the 3rd of October, to promote new deep sea oil exploration and drilling in New Zealand’s frontier basins…

  18. Oil spills from oil well and ship leaks have the same bad impact to our environment. Yes, we need these oil, but all the government around the world should strictly guide these companies to take care and caution when handling oil because it will be very difficult for all of us when, this oil thing goes into our oceans

  19. Money, money, money… 1st, 2nd & 3rd.. everything else comes much further down the list. What else can we expect from this right-wing, capitalist Govt. run by the rich for the rich ?


  20. Hi Gareth. As much as I tend to agree with you on the response issue, I think quoting a Stuff poll is a risky way to prove, or even demonstrate, anything. Even for web polls they’re amongst the most useless polls available for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is mixing reasoning with objective answering, and not providing a space for anyoneto indicate they disagree with all options.

    I’d have trouble taking one seriously simply because it happened to result in something consistent with what I think on a particular occasion.

  21. That’s capitalism for you, a shonky operation goes wrong and unpaid volunteers are called in to clean up the mess. Privatise the profits, socialise the losses.

    I hope the government will be hitting up the ship owners, or their insurers, with a bill for the costs of the defence staff being assigned to this – or will this be another taxpayer subsidy to business?

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