by Gareth Hughes
A few commentators have been raising issues with what we have been saying about the Rena disaster.
Firstly, along with Greenpeace, EDS and other environmental groups, we have said the Government’s inability to quickly respond to and contain a relatively small spill (at worst 1700 tonnes of heavy oil) demonstrates that we would be in serious trouble if there was a blowout in a deep sea well. The negative environmental and economic consequences of the Rena will be significant, even though it is miniscule compared to what happened in the Gulf of Mexico last year.
Exactly our point: coastal shipping accidents are relatively rare and preventable, and they involve smaller quantities of oil. Compared to coastal shipping, not only is deep sea oil drilling far more risky in terms of probability of accidents, the consequences would be more severe. The Deepwater Horizon incident involved hundreds of times more oil.
Deep sea oil drilling is on par with space exploration, in terms of technical difficulty and complexity, and is a recent phenomenon for the most part. While there were more than 3,000 wells in the Gulf when the Deepwater Horizon blew up, there were at most a few dozen in deep water. It is inherently more difficult to assure safety, even with robust regulations (not that we have those.)
So hopefully our point is clear – we shouldn’t be allowing foreign oil companies to drill exploratory wells when it’s a high risk activity and we would be (pardon my language) totally f*^%ed if anything went wrong.
But now the Government and other critics are saying – wait a second, your transport policy supports increased coastal shipping! Wouldn’t that increase the chances of another Rena-like disaster?
The answer, quite simply, is no. Green Party policy would make coastal shipping safer, cleaner and greener.
If we plan for growth in coastal shipping, if we prioritise domestic growth (rather than just allowing any foreign ship with a flag of convenience to move containers from port to port), if we invest in proper regulation, proper health, safety and employment standards, we will reduce the likelihood of another accident. And we must be properly prepared if one happens.
The Greens are the only party that supports specific policies like reinstating cabotage regulations, which will support the domestic shipping industry, and we will ensure there are adequate labour standards (wages and conditions) on international vessels in New Zealand waters, irrespective of the flag under which the ship operates. We want to support the development of hybrid ships, that will make greater use of wind and solar, which will improve energy efficiency and reduce the need for container ships to rely on oil. We were appalled in 2009 when we found out the Government was cutting all funding to coastal shipping.
This Government has demonstrated time and time again that they are committed to reducing regulation, and making it easier for cowboys to operate, in a variety of sectors. They prefer to take a hands-off approach, leaving it to industry to provide “world’s best practice”. They are optimistic that nothing bad will happen, and if it does, it will be easy enough to sort out.
There is a theme here. Christchurch earthquake and building standards, Pike River Mine and mine safety standards, and now the Rena and deregulation of coastal shipping. Some disasters are unavoidable, like the earthquake, whereas in the latter two cases deregulation doubtless contributed to them occurring. We need to be realistic about the possibility of accidents and natural disasters, and we need to take those risks into account in our management of human activities. Regulations are not just a cost imposed on business, they are an investment to prevent worst case scenarios. Without regulation, businesses are forced to race to the bottom through cost cutting.
If you had asked BP and the others involved before the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon, do you think they would have said, well actually there is a decent chance of a serious accident and no, to be fair, we aren’t really conforming to world’s best practice? And two weeks ago, if we had asked John Key and Steven Joyce if there was reason to worry about a foreign-owned and -captained cargo vessel crashing into a reef, they would have camly reassured us with some smiles and waves.
Green Party Policy supports increased coastal shipping as one of the most energy efficient means of transporting freight, and an essential part of our transport system that can be even safer, cleaner and greener. It’s not hard to see that with proper investment and regulation, coastal shipping can be very safe. It’s also not hard to see that this Government can’t be trusted to properly regulate shipping or respond to an unanticipated spill, so we should be very concerned about their cavalier approach to highly risky activities like deep water drilling.