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

Two Dead, One Injured – Suspect Arrested:

Police apprehended Russell John Tully just after 5pm this evening following the armed incident in Ashburton this morning.

Canterbury dog section and AOS apprehended Tully not far from Lake Hood. No shots were fired although Tully will be treated for minor dog-bite injuries.

Tully is now in custody at Ashburton Police Station. More>>


  • 3 News Out-Link - Livestream: Ashburton shooting press conference from 5pm

  •  

    Parliament Today:

    John Key Press Conference: Ashburton Shootings, Judith Collins Inquiry

    Prime Minister John Key has delayed the release of Nationals’ fiscal policy in light of this morning’s shooting at a Work and Income office in Ashburton... Key also answered questions about Judith Collins, and confirmed that independent inquiry will be held with regard to allegations made against Collins. More>>

    Gordon Campbell:
    On John Key’s ‘Blame It On Judith’ Strategy

    Right now, Prime Minister John Key seems intent on limiting the scope of any inquiry into his government’s dealings with Cameron Slater. The declared aim is to make that inquiry solely about Judith Collins’ behavior with respect to the Serious Fraud Office. More>>

    ALSO:

    Gordon Campbell: On The Debate, And The Collins Accusation

    Debating is a peculiar discipline in that what you say is less important than how you’re saying it. Looking poised, being articulate and staying on topic generally wins the day – and on that score, Labour leader David Cunliffe won what turned out to be a bruising encounter with Prime Minister John Key last night on TVNZ. More>>

    ALSO:

    Gordon Campbell: On Winston Peters' Latest Bout Of Immigrant Bashing

    It is only one poll, but rather than cannibalising each other's vote, Colin Craig and Winston Peters do seem to be managing to find the room to co-exist... Few are questioning how Peters got to this happy place, and what it says about the mood of the electorate. More>>

    ALSO:

    More Immigration News: First People Trafficking Charges

    The first people trafficking charges in New Zealand have been brought by Immigration New Zealand (INZ)... The defendants have been charged under the Crimes Act 1961 for arranging by deception the entry of 18 Indian nationals into New Zealand. More>>

    Collins 'Misinterprets Media Reports': "Too Compromised To Remain Justice Minister"

    Bizarre claims by Judith Collins this morning that she had been cleared of inappropriate behaviour by the Privacy Commissioner demonstrates she is too compromised to remain Justice Minister, Labour MP Grant Robertson says. More>>

    ALSO:

    Labour On Climate Change: Focus On The Now For The Future

    A Labour Government will put in place a comprehensive climate change strategy focusing on both mitigation and adaptation, establish an independent Climate Commission and implement carbon budgeting, says Labour Climate Change spokesperson Moana Mackey. More>>

    ALSO:

    Gordon Campbell: On National’s Housing Assistance Plan

    So, as many as 90,000 people could derive some benefit from National’s housing assistance plans for low and middle-income earners... Yet in reality, the benefits seem likely to be insignificant, and they will be skewed towards those at the top end of the income group that’s supposedly the target. More>>

    ALSO:

    Election Data Consortium: National’s Worst Case Scenario At Stage One?

    A month out from the general election and ipredict traders are still forecasting National’s vote to slip below current polling levels and there is potential for it to fall further. More>>

    ALSO:

    Get More From Scoop

     

    LATEST HEADLINES

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Politics
    Search Scoop  
     
     
    Powered by Vodafone
    NZ independent news