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Research: Gov't efforts to promote oil & gas development

Media Release
February 15, 2017

Push to expand oil and gas development undermining long-standing government/community relations: research

New research suggests Government’s efforts to promote oil and gas development while ‘managing’ environmental critics and exerting more government control over resource management are harming long-standing government/civil sector relationships.

Economic anthropologist Dr Terrence Loomis, author of a new book titled Petroleum Development and Environmental Conflict in Aotearoa New Zealand, says the divisions and social conflict being generated “are having detrimental effects on long-standing state/civil society institutions and shared Kiwi values around public participation in community planning and policy-making, sustainable resource management and care for the environment.”

Dr Loomis carried out his research while a visiting research scholar at Victoria University’s Institute of Governance and Policy Studies.

What seems to upset a lot of people, he says, is government’s apparently contradictory energy policy – talking up New Zealand’s clean, green image while down-playing evidence of the risks and harm associated with the petroleum industry and its effects on climate change. “The government and PEPANZ seem to just dodge the issue, repeating how safe and environmentally concerned the industry is. It’s as though they’re saying ‘just trust us, we know what we’re doing,’” Dr Loomis said.

“To my knowledge,” Dr Loomis stated, “there has never been a public discussion paper on oil and gas development or energy policy.”

An analysis of the Government’s legislative and regulatory reforms revealed the public can no longer participate in community sustainable outcomes planning, is not consulted on proposed exploration blocks, is usually barred from making submissions on drilling consent applications, and protesters can be arrested for getting too close to drilling operations. Voluntary groups are worried about speaking out in case their funding is cut. There are concerns about increased ministerial powers under the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill.

“Other than national elections, people and even local authorities have much less influence over environmental issues and development decisions than previously,” Dr Loomis stated.

In some ways, Dr Loomis noted, New Zealand is starting to assume some of the characteristics of what international development research calls the ‘resource curse’: “Countries that have bet on extractive industry and ceded too much influence to big multinational mining companies ‘in the national interest,’ and as a consequence have found themselves pressured into silencing critics and intervening in communities who object to having their lands drilled or mined.”

“With a national election looming,” Dr Loomis noted, “the NZ industry seems to be playing down the prospects for expanded petroleum development by noting that the weak international oil market is discouraging companies from exploring and drilling. But seismic surveying and planning is going on behind the scenes, and the Government continues to subsidise the industry in hopes of a ‘game changing’ discovery sooner or later”. Dr Loomis suggested people shouldn’t be lulled into thinking nothing is happening. “With rising concerns over climate change, fresh water, and off-shore drilling, the time was ripe for a vigorous debate about whether oil and gas development should play any part in the economy.

-- Ends

Dr Loomis will be delivering presentations on his research at Auckland University on February 16th, in Gisborne at Te Waananga o Aotearoa the evening of February 20th, in Wellington at VUW’s Institute of Governance and Policy Studies on February 24th and in Dunedin on April 22nd.

Attachment: Book summary and author precis.

DrTLoomis_book_summary.docx

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