Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | News Video | Crime | Employers | Housing | Immigration | Legal | Local Govt. | Maori | Welfare | Unions | Youth | Search

 


Trust us – we know what we’re doing

Trust us – we know what we’re doing

NZ Herald opinion piece published 13 January 2014

By Gary Taylor

A recent Herald editorial supporting Shell’s proposals to drill for oil and gas off Southland’s east coast, said “subject only to appropriate environmental protection” New Zealand “should relish this show of confidence by a major exploration company.”

Putting aside the opposition of many to any oil and gas extraction for a moment, it’s worth exploring that caveat: do we have appropriate environmental protection in place or not?

To make this assessment, we need to understand just how the environmental consenting regime might work for Shell’s project.

Until quite recently there was no proper environmental regulation of our ocean waters. The National-led Government which created the Environmental Protection Authority has given the EPA the consenting role for offshore oil, gas and mining. The Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act was passed into law in 2012.

It created three consenting classes for activities in our oceans: permitted, discretionary and prohibited. Oil and gas exploration would be treated as discretionary. Applications would be publicly notified, submissions called for, a hearing held with rights of cross-examination and a decision made. An approval would have conditions.

Since then the international petroleum industry has lobbied intensively and obtained a troubling concession from Government: a special consenting class called non-notified discretionary has been inserted into the act and will be activated by proposed regulations that will remove any public involvement in exploration consenting.

This will mean that Shell's project in the Great South Basin would not be notified, there would be no opportunity for public comment and no hearing. Environmental approvals for deep-sea exploration drilling would be processed in-house by the new EPA.

The Government is saying that regulations should be proportionate to the risks being managed. It says the risk of a major oil spill is low and so the regulatory oversight should be light. But risk has two key dimensions: probability and consequences.

A low probability/high consequences event should be treated as a high-risk and red-flagged. International best practice should be brought to bear, first to reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic event to the absolute minimum and secondly to ensure that well-formulated conditions and contingency plans are in place to deal with a spill if it happens.

However much the petroleum sector and cheer-leading ministers proclaim to the contrary, the fact remains that deep-water oil and gas exploration is a high-risk activity. The Deepwater Horizons well in the Gulf of Mexico, which led to the worst oil industry spill in history, was an exploration well. It caused around US$100 billion ($120 billion) of damage and devastated wildlife and communities.

The chances of such a catastrophe occurring here may be low, but the consequences if it did happen would be huge for our economy and our environment. There is a sound public policy case for a fully transparent and robust process that enables sensible public comment and scrutiny.

The alternative, of approvals all being dealt with in-house, opens up the possibility of regulator capture by the industry and the kind of laissez-faire oversight that led to the Deepwater Horizons incident and, in the New Zealand context, the Pike River disaster. "Trust us - we know what we're doing" just doesn't cut the mustard.

A public hearing with rights of cross-examination would be a way of testing whether an applicant has an acceptable track record and is properly resourced; that drilling in the proposed location will not of itself harm the environment; that it is applying best practice drilling techniques; that it is taking all possible measures to avoid a spill; that contingency plans to mitigate an incident are all in place; that well-capping devices are readily accessible within an acceptable timeframe; and that adequate monitoring will be undertaken by the authorities. A hearing would examine whether consent should be given, and if so what conditions should apply.

We are all aware that the Government is keen to encourage oil and gas exploration. Indeed, the Minister of Energy has been embarrassingly effusive in his advocacy for the sector. The Herald's editorial was itself very gung-ho.

Meantime, the Green Party and Greenpeace argue the opposite position, largely on climate change grounds.

It is important that the polarised nature of the debate about the wider merits of oil and gas doesn't distract us from making sound decisions about environmental regulation. We should not lose our senses in the rush for a gusher.

New Zealand has 14,000km of coast and the fourth largest ocean area in the world, habitat to many precious birds and marine mammals. The Minister for the Environment has a duty of care to protect the environment. She has called for submissions on the EEZ regulations by the end of January.

Those who support oil and gas exploration subject to adequate environmental safeguards should make their voices known. A secretive, in-house approvals regime is unacceptable and dangerous. New Zealanders expect strong, effective and transparent oversight of the petroleum industry.

*************

Gary Taylor is chairman of the Environmental Defence Society www.eds.org.nz.

ENDS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Parliament Headlines | Politics Headlines | Regional Headlines

 

PARLIAMENT TODAY:

  • Week in Parliament 22-05-15
  • Saturday Sitting
  • House Rises At Midnight
  • Telco Levy Bill Passes
  • Telco Levy Bill Completes First Reading
  • Social Housing Bill Passes Under Urgency

  • TPPA: University Of Auckland Warns Of Negative TPP Impact

    The University of Auckland May 20, 2015 University of Auckland Warns of Negative TPP Impact With the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiation drawing to a close, the University of Auckland has expressed serious concerns about its potential implications. ... More>>

    NZ Flag: Flag Referendum Gets Hit Hard In New Poll

    The latest Campbell Live text poll confirms it is time for the Prime Minister to listen to the public and shelve his flag referendum, says the New Zealand First Leader Rt Hon Winston Peters. More>>

    Gordon Campbell: The Government’s Belated Moves On Property Speculation

    Is it a property tax on capital gains or a capital gains tax on property? The Jesuitical distinctions in the government’s spin about its latest moves on property speculators are all about whether the government can claim that it jumped, or confess that it ... More>>

    Grant Robertson:
    Key Can’t Just Be Prime Minister For Parnell

    John Key must show New Zealanders in next week’s Budget that he is more than the Prime Minister for Parnell, and is also the Prime Minister for Pine Hill, Putararu and Palmerston North, Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson says. In a ... More>>

    Labour Party: More Regional Jobs Go In Corrections Reshape

    News that 194 Corrections staff are to lose their jobs will have ramifications not only for them and their families but for the wider community, Labour’s Corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis says. Prison units at Waikeria, Tongariro and Rimutaka ... More>>

    ALSO:

  • NZ First - Prison Job Losses to Send Money Offshore
  • TPPA: ‘Team Obama’ Regroups On Fast Track, Still Not Deliverable

    ‘After yesterday’s stinging and unexpected defeat for the Obama administration’s attempt to advance Fast Track legislation in the US Senate, Senate leaders have worked up a compromise they think will get them past this blockage’, according to Auckland ... More>>

    NZ Government: 5,500 More Doctors And Nurses In Our Hospitals

    Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says a record number of doctors and nurses are working in District Health Boards across the country. More>>

    Controller and Auditor General: Katherine Rich Conflict of Interest Decision

    We are writing to you about a matter that has been raised with us by members of the public. More>>

    ALSO:


    Budget 2015: Andrew Little On The 2015 Budget

    Speaking to the Chamber of Commerce, the Labour opposition leader attacked the government’s approach to economic issues facing New Zealand. He said they have been “more than reckless in their complacency” and “the next week’s budget will do nothing ... More>>

    Defence Force: NZDF Building Partner Capacity Mission Personnel In Iraq

    NZDF Building Partner Capacity Mission Personnel in Iraq The New Zealand Defence Force Building Partner Capacity training mission contingent is in place at Taji Military Complex in Iraq. The Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating says the ... More>>

    PM Press Conference: ACC Levy Cuts Announced

    In a press conference this afternoon in Wellington, ACC Minister Nikki Kaye proposed $500 million worth of ACC levy cuts. More>>

    Quakes: New Process For Red Zone Crown Offers

    Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has announced a process to give everyone a say on the Crown offers to owners of vacant, commercial/industrial and uninsured properties in the Residential Red Zone. More>>

    ALSO:

    Gordon Campbell: On The Battle Obama Is Waging Over The TPP

    For the past two and a half years, this column has been arguing that the fate of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal will hinge on whether US President Barack Obama can win Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) from Congress... Last week, the White House finally, finally unveiled a draft TPA Bill. More>>

    ALSO:


    Gordon Campbell: On lessons for Labour from the UK election
    If the polls were right – and the pollsters kept telling us how accurate they’d been in 2010, and even Nate Silver was getting the same results – there seemed no way that the British Labour Party could lose last Thursday’s British election. With Labour predicted to win around 270 seats and the Scottish National Party batting around 55-60 seats, Labour seemed to be home free. But…as we now know, things didn’t turn out that way. Labour ended up with 232 seats and the Conservatives swept back to power with an outright majority, after winning only a little more than a third ( 36.9%) of the votes cast.MORE >>
    Also.

  • NZ PM John Key - PM congratulates David Cameron after UK election
  • The Nation IV Transcript - Hack Attack author Nick Davies
  • Get More From Scoop

     

    LATEST HEADLINES

     
     
     
     
     
    More RSS  RSS
     
     
     
     
    Politics
    Search Scoop  
     
     
    Powered by Vodafone
    NZ independent news