Offshore Otago oil exploration versus climate change

A recent announcement that a large oil exploration programme is like to take place off the Otago coast is predictably controversial.

ODT (10 April):  Gas and oil exploration move off Otago coast

Austrian oil giant OMV has unveiled one of the most ambitious gas and oil drilling programmes proposed in New Zealand.

It plans possibly three exploration and seven follow-up appraisal wells off Otago’s coast in the Great South Basin.

The 10 oil and gas prospects are within a 100km-150km arc, southeast of Dunedin.

OMV has applied to the Environmental Protection Authority for a marine discharge consent to release contaminants to sea, the application being made public today.

“Depending on the outcomes of the exploration drilling, this could include up to three exploration wells and up to seven appraisal wells,” the company said.

The company also said if no indications of potentially commercial hydrocarbons were detected in the exploration wells, no appraisal wells would be drilled.

OMV will be looking for gas deposits and there is a likelihood of finding a small percentage of oil condensate; fine, light oil suitable for aviation fuel.

ODT (10 April): ‘Expect resistance’, oil company told

An Otago environmental group is telling Austrian oil giant OMV to “expect resistance”, should a deep-water oil rig appear off Otago’s coast.

The Dunedin City Council, which supports a ban on issuing new exploration permits, will be briefed by OMV at the end of the month.

Oil Free Otago spokeswoman Rosemary Penwarden was aware OMV had applied to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to “discharge contaminants to sea”, a requirement before it could drill any prospects in the Great South Basin.

She had spoken “at length” with the EPA last week and understood the application covered a “tiny spill” of around 250ml and Oil Free Otago would not be opposing the application.

“Climate change is now in a crisis situation …we won’t sit by and let them continue their destructive business off our coast,” she said.

She cited Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull saying earlier in the week at a public forum on climate change he was proud of his council’s stance against oil exploration.

Mr Cull said the council did commit to supporting the moratorium on no new oil and gas exploration permits, but could “informally welcome” OMV’s latest interests in Otago.

However, when pressed about lobbying OMV to base itself in Dunedin, “council wouldn’t lobby them”.

“If there was to be a base and investment then council would have to vote,” he said.

He noted council had no role to play in non-notified marine consent applications.

ODT editorial:  Oil and gas versus climate change

For many, including those who participated in or encouraged last month’s climate change strike by school pupils, the news of Austrian oil giant OMV unveiling one of the most ambitious gas and oil drilling programmes proposed in New Zealand would have seemed like a late April Fool’s Day joke.

They may have asked how, if climate change is rapidly contributing to the end of the world, such a thing could still be considered appropriate. To others, news of a major international company investing significant sums to find whether true riches lie beneath the waters off the Dunedin coastline would have been enthusiastically received.

It isn’t fair to say the first group wants no economic development. Nor is it fair to say the second group doesn’t care about climate change. It does seem fair to suggest many New Zealanders are interpreting the climate change conversation in very different ways.

As much as many believe otherwise, the issue is still confusing.

Confusion, contradictions and complications abound on this topic and the divide between those who are ”all in” on climate change, and those who are yet to be convinced, is still broad.

It isn’t that there is a simple answer to any of this. The problem is that there are too many potential answers, and many seem unsure who to believe, who to follow. And, while they consider, they want reassurance the economy will remain buoyant.

Protests against oil and gas exploration are natural and healthy. But if the time has really come to move to a war-footing against climate change, we first need to be very clear about what the enemy is. For many New Zealanders, this country’s meagre fossil fuel consumption is unlikely to be considered the priority.

Oil-free is an unrealistic goal in the foreseeable future.