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Are A Billion Oil Barrels Green As Timber?

The Government and the environmental movement are now faced with a huge dilemma and irony following the discovery of a potential half billion-barrel oil reserve - a non renewable resource - onshore at Hawera in Taranaki. John Howard reports.

US energy exploration company, Swift Energy based in Texas, says it has discovered up to half a billion barrels of crude oil at its Rimu onshore prospect near Hawera.

Swift Energy Chairman, Terry Swift said, "Testing would be stepped up this week to determine by mid-year the true potential of the field."

Mr Swift said the tests also show significant amounts of gas at the site.

But on the West Coast, where Government has stopped the beech timber harvest following claims of unsustainability by environmentalists, people are asking what is sustainable and environmentally friendly about oil - a non-renewable resource. Why are they being treated differently than other districts they ask?

Coast Action Network Chiarman, Barry Nicolle said, " The Coast will be sitting back and carefully watching developments including the level of protests, if any, by the greens and the Government."

"Pete Hodgson is both Minister of Timberlands and Minister of Energy and we will be looking for consistency," Mr Nicolle said.

"Surely there are birds and other forms of biodiversity at the Hawera oil-site which will be affected. We will be watching to see if they tell Taranaki that they can have an economic development package as long as they stop the production of unsustainable oil," he said.

Mr Nicolle said he also wonders whether the NZ oil companies will be told by Government to source their product exclusively from overseas like the NZ furniture manufacturers allegedly were because native timber was supposedly unsustainable.

"Oil is also unsustainable and its certainly native because its been in the ground of New Zealand for millions of years - it's also non-renewable." he said.

Meanwhile the chief operating officer for Fletcher Challenge Energy, Floyd Taylor said the Maui natural gas field was due to run out in 2009, and it supplies two thirds of New Zealand's gas needs.

Dr Taylor said his company expects to know next week whether the Taranaki Pohokura site has the potential to produce a tenth of the equivalent of Maui.

Earlier this week Green Party co-leader, Rod Donald said, " Preserving the marine environment is the biggest conservation challenge facing New Zealand on the 21st Century."

"As the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment said in his recent report, our knowledge of the marine environment is comparable to our knowledge of the forests at the turn of the 20th Century," Mr Donald said.

" The conservation focus of the last 30 years had been on saving forests, with some degree of success, but more effort and attention must now be turned to the sea." he said.

Mr Donald said, " I would add that our current treatment of the marine environment is also comparable to how we treated our forests over the last 100 years."

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