Tuesday 11 October 2011

And one for the Greens

The Greens are largely right on this one. To recap: a freighter struck a reef near Tauranga last week, leaking a fair bit of fuel oil. Oil's now washing up on the beaches. Here's David Clendon:
Nobody ever wants an oil spill anywhere in the marine environment, but in terms of acccess and ability to respond,  the location and timing of this spill could have been a great deal worse.  The vessel ran aground on a reef scarcely 20km from Tauranga, one of our largest, busiest and most modern ports.  It occurred in calm weather, and was known about almost immediately. Yet we have still struggled to bring together the necessary expertise and hardware to deal quickly  with the crisis.

How much worse would the situation be if we were to allow deepwater off shore drilling, which the Energy Minister and her government are so eager to do, and an accident occurred a long way offshore in foul weather.

The American response to the Gulf of Mexico disaster involved hundreds of vessels, and many thousands of military, civilian and volunteer personnel.  It also required a second rig to drill the relief well that ultimately enabled the stemming of the oil flow into the waters of the Gulf.

New Zealand does not and will never have that sort of capacity.  The oil companies will resist having to take responsibility to provide it.
There's little chance of public support for substantial offshore drilling if a minor freighter crash leads to locals having to clean up the mess. The exploration companies ought to pull out something credible demonstrating either capacity to contain a spill or financial capacity to pay for a clean-up should a spill eventuate.

The Greens' projected share of the popular vote dropped a bit over the weekend, though they're now back up around 9.85%. Expect that price to rise if the Tauranga mess gets worse.


  1. Eric, I’m surprised you’re buying into the alarmist Greens reaction.
    Sure I can see the point they’re trying to make about the apparently slow response but I don’t see what could’ve been done quicker. It’s still early days for a post-mortem.
    Re the residents cleaning up, It seems to be a knee jerk reaction and a photo op more than anything by the looks of it (my cynical side coming out!). The official cleanup crew was there not much later. People will always want action quicker than what has happened (I guess I would too if my beach was being polluted).
    The Science Media Centre seems to be covering this issue well from all angles.
    It really is a long bow to suggest that the same thing will happen in the oil industry without giving looking at the risk assessment and probability.
    The oil spiller in any way is liable for the costs of clean up, see
    http://www.maritimenz.govt.nz/Publications-and-forms/Environmental-protection/Oil-spill-response-strategy.pdf (see the exec summary).
    It really annoys me that the Greens will conveniently overlook current procedures, legislation, provisions in place in order to get political mileage.
    Yes, it annoys me to no end that the incident has happened, and the resulting pollution when I haven’t even checked out the beach at Tauranga! But what pisses me off is the opportunism. Ah well, it’s to be expected. I wouldn’t expect a different response from the usual suspects I suppose ( the Greens attacking, National defending, MNZ just trying to scramble and do the work, relative silence from the shipping companies involved, and so on…). *sigh*

  2. Exactly what is it that the Greens have right? As much as they'd like to dream otherwise, New Zealand will be a consumer of oil for decades to come; the less we produce here, the more has to be imported. And does anyone want to take a stab at how it arrives here?

  3. @Anon: I think the point is that if nothing could be done more quickly for even a minor incident, there needs to be some kind of demonstration of greater capacity for dealing with something more major. Grand scheme of things, this is a tiny oil leak - it wasn't an oil tanker, just the fuel tanks on a freighter. But if we can't even handle that right, then folks won't be keen on the bigger drilling efforts.

    Glad to hear that an oil spiller would be liable for clean up costs; I'd be even happier to hear that they've sufficient insurance to cover those costs should they obtain.

    @Miguel: Also right that oil gets here one way or another. But the maximum spill from a tanker is the total content of the tanker; the losses are more bounded than a broken well-head.

  4. Gotcha. The point I should have made better is we don't know yet if the response has been inadequate for the size of the spill.

    What do you think should have happened that hasn't happened?

    Most oil tankers are double hulled now, which minimises the likelihood of a spill in case of an accident. I'd think shipping companies and oil majors will have insurance. It would be silly not to.

  5. Plus there are compulsory insurance requirements in NZ. I think the minimum limit is/was $30 million, which was supposed to be reviewed but not sure where that's got to.

  6. Yes, the potentional spill per event is more bounded. But that has to be weighed against (1) the probability of an event, and (2) the degree of supervision over those who operate in NZ waters, both of which I suspect would favour drilling. There's also the issue of the environmental damage per event - as the Greens point out, an oil well would be far offshore, so any spill would be widely dispersed before it reached our shores.

  7. The thing with the oil drilling issue is, we haven't even found oil yet?

    Why do we always get our nations panties in a bunch over something that has yet to happen and may not.

    Secondly if we do find significant quantities of oil, are the greens really suggesting we wouldn't use the revenues from it to make the rest of our economy more energy efficient/green/other buzz words here/sustainable?

    Why would the same people who constantly claim how broke we are, not want to exploit a potential resource to put us on a sounder financial footing?

    NZers are a very complacent and hypocritical bunch especially when you consider how reliant we are on oil-based transportation fuels.

  8. I don't think anyone could credibly claim, given a deep-water horizon type event, that they could contain and mitigate it to an acceptable level. The challenge to potential developers of these resources is to get the probability of occurrence down to an acceptable level.