Oil opponents overstating support

There’s no doubt there is sizeable opposition to oil and gas exploration around New Zealand and off the Otago coast – they are campaigns with close connections to experienced opposers the Green Party and Greenpeace – but opponents are overstating their support. Talking up their support to the media follows similar tactics of previous campaigns using deliberate misinformation.

There are some actual numbers:

  • The Oil Free Otago Facebook page has 431 followers accumulated since 2 June 2013.  In comparison Pro Oil and Gas Otago started a Facebook page on Friday (10/01/2014) and 658 followers. These are rough indicators but neither are accurate measures of support as they can easily be stacked, and both have likes from around the country.
  • The ODT report that Campaign against oil drilling launched on Friday was “attended by about a dozen people”.
  • The Hands Off Our Harbour – National Deep Sea Drilling Protest at Port Chalmers yesterday (Sunday 12/02/14) – a flotilla blockade that was hindered by bad weather – was reported on ODT as “More than 250 protesters”.

The plastic flotilla of the Oil Free protest, Port Chalmers 12/01/2014

A Stuff report on Sunday claimed many more would attend the flotilla – Dunedin divided over deep-sea oil drilling.

Dunedin is split over the benefits of deep sea oil drilling, as 750 activists plan a blockade of Otago Harbour’s commercial shipping channel today.

One of the organisers, Niamh O’Flynn, has a history of exaggerating support for her campaigns, and yestarday was no exception in Newstalk ZB Otago residents angered by Shell plans:

“People are feeling like, we had 7000 people out on the beaches, we had overwhelming support for the Oil Free Seas flotilla, overwhelming support for this conference, and the Government and Shell suddenly announce that they’re going to do even more drilling than we originally thought.”

“Overwhelming” is overstating. They have significant support but they also have significant opposition.

A report on the flotilla protest Anti oil drilling protesters gather in Dunedin:

Heavy rain and strong wind hasn’t stopped hundreds of people turning up to vent their frustrations at the offshore drilling by Shell and Anadarko.

Oil Free Otago says the strong turn out in the freezing conditions shows Dunedinites don’t want offshore drilling in their backyard.

Language like “shows Dunedinites don’t want offshore drilling” is typical and misleading. Some Dunedinites don’t want exploration. Some do. Some don’t care.

Politicians have also claimed support that is dubious or they won’t (and can’t) substantiate.

Dunedin City Councillor Jinty MacTavish on her Facebook page:

Over 87% of submitters to a recent consultation we held on oil and gas exploration, told us they didn’t support it off our coast. If that is even vaguely close to an accurate reflection of public opinion, it suggests our city collectively opposes the activity.

But using ratepayers’ resources to convince a company whose activities we apparently collectively oppose to choose Dunedin as their base…

Submissions are often part of organised campaigns, they can in no way be taken as a measure of public support and certainly can’t be claimed as suggesting “our city collectively opposes“.

I challenged Cr MacTavish on this and she responded:

 I qualified my statements above by saying things like “If that is even vaguely close to an accurate reflection of public opinion…”

She must know it is not an accurate reflection of public opinion. If she didn’t she does now.

Green co-leader Metiria Turei also makes a sweeping claim on Facebook, commenting on Oil Free Future Summit Registration 2014 she said:

Definitely going and supporting, a much needed chance for us all to send a message that deep sea oil drilling is NOT WELCOME in Dunedin.

I challenged her on this and she didn’t respond, although some of her supporters said she spoke for them. And attacked me, bizarrely I was attacked and accused, for example:

Desi Liversage Obviously Pete, you are the spokesperson for business. You and the ODT.

While I don’t speak for them there are people in business who support exploration and there are other people who support getting gas exploration support business in Dunedin.

And the ODT speaks (with various voices and opinions) for more Dunedin and Otago people than the Green Party and anti-oil activists.

Opinion on gas exploration is mixed. There is strong opposition but there is no indication this is from anything other than a minority of anti-activists and the Green Party, both experienced on campaigning and talking up their levels of support.

The only way of determining levels of support and opposition of Dunedin and Otago people is by measuring it. Unless that is done grandiose claims of major or universal opposition should be treated with suspicion.

Leave a comment


  1. David

     /  13th January 2014

    Why doesn’t someone point out they are drilling for natural gas not oil. Gas is the competitor to coal as seen in the USA with their fracking boom which has seen large reductions in CO2 emmissions as coal fired stations are either replaced with gas ones or converted.
    Gas doesn’t wash up on beaches !

    • I put that argument to Jinty MacTavish, that gas would reduce emissions, she accepted the point but eventually went back to opposing unless there’s an international agreement to, I think, cut fossil fuel use to a third of what it is (she was vague on this especially when pushed to clarify).


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