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Exploration ban OIA docs reveal agenda-driven policy advice

3 July 2018

Exploration ban OIA docs reveal agenda-driven policy advice

OIA documents on the offshore petroleum exploration ban released in June reveal MBIE officials knew as early as last February the government was contemplating a ‘permanent moratorium’ that would threaten the oil and gas industry’s viability.

They set about defending industry and trying to dissuade Minister Woods from declaring a ban through a series of agenda-driven policy briefings.

Although the Prime Minister had declared a goal of zero carbon emissions by 2050 and ending reliance on fossil fuels, officials talked up the industry’s benefits and maintained that an exploration ban would be ‘contrary to Government policy objectives’.

As a consequence, the Minister for Energy and Resources, the Prime Minister and other ministers received inadequate, misleading and occasionally biased advice from MBIE officials.

Critics of the government have portrayed MBIE officials as being ‘kept in the dark’ or surprised at the last minute when they ‘found out’ Minister Woods was planning to ban new offshore oil and gas exploration.

Analysis of the documents (see full report) shows as early as 27 February officials presented seven options to the Minister for the 2018 Block Offer including a temporary and a permanent moratorium on exploration. The Minister approved work on two options, both of which restricted exploration to Taranaki and could potentially have ended offshore exploration.

Over subsequent weeks, the OIA documents indicate MBIE officials forwarded a series of emails and briefing papers to the Minister and the PM’s officials that:

• incorporated petroleum industry promotional language and examples of speculative ‘game-changing’ projects

• conveyed suspect ‘facts’ from privately-commissioned studies about the industry’s safety, employment and economic benefits

• presented perfunctory, sometimes contradictory arguments against an exploration ban

• used spin from an environmental consultancy firm employed by oil companies to provide ‘talking points’ for the Minister about the safety of fracking, and

• uncritically repeated industry claims about increased gas use benefitting the climate, in spite of climate science findings to the contrary.

Matters came to a head after a Cabinet discussion on 9 April when agreement was reached to proceed with an offshore exploration ban as part of the 2018 Block Offer on 12 April. The record shows MBIE officials submitted three last-ditch briefing papers in an attempt to dissuade Minister Woods from announcing the ban. In the main paper NZPaM’s General Manager told the Minister that officials disagreed with the ban because it was “detrimental to a number of [the Government’s] public policy objectives.”

It is perhaps not surprising that a one stage, the Minister attempted to hand the issue over to the new Interim Climate Change Committee for independent advice.

This was not the sort of objective, evidence-based policy advice Ministers would have expected or found useful in attempting to implement the Government’s objectives around climate change and phasing out reliance on fossil fuels.

Full report: ‘Agenda-driven policy advice: the real story behind the petroleum exploration ban OIA documentshttp://www.terrenceloomis.ac.nz/uploads/5/3/3/3/5333337/critique-story_of_exploration_ban_oias.pdf

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