Ok, let’s make offshore oil and gas exploration about the science and not emotion

By   /   November 20, 2013  /   24 Comments

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One of the things that has struck me during the whole debate around offshore oil and gas exploration is the number of times National Ministers and MPs have claimed that they are making decisions based on “science” and not “emotion”.

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One of the things that has struck me during the whole debate around offshore oil and gas exploration is the number of times National Ministers and MPs have claimed that they are making decisions based on “science” and not “emotion”. Putting aside the obvious fact that science and emotion are not mutually exclusive, a critical point the National Party fails to understand is that a true commitment to evidence based policy making means not being scared to have a robust public debate.

Environment Minister Amy Adams during questioning in Parliament over plans to exclude the public from having their say on deep sea oil drilling permits in the wake of a Greenpeace report on the potential consequences of an oil spill constantly referred to “the science” and “scientific evidence” and yet I doubt she had even read the report.

Greenpeace produced a scientific analysis and industry responded in kind. Following the release of the Greenpeace report the EPA released modelling carried out by Shell that was previously not publically available and the public could judge for themselves whether or not the Government’s shrill accusations of scaremongering were justified. That is exactly how these debates should take place – transparently and with the relevant information in the public domain.

Instead what we got was a knee jerk reaction from Government Ministers who dismissed the report out of hand. Evidence based policy making doesn’t mean ignoring any research that challenges your point of view. What we have under this National government is policy-based evidence making.
The National Government are happy to pay lip service to science but when it comes down to it they are only interested in science that progresses their agenda.

We see it time and time again – Nitrate levels in the Ruataniwha dam proposal, the reversal of mandatory fortification of folate, complete inaction on climate change.

The Greenpeace report stimulated an important public debate – one which industry has not been afraid to engage in robustly. And yet at the same time the Government is intent on shutting down debate, excluding the public from the permitting process, banning protesting at sea, and equivocating on how much information regarding spill modelling and emergency response plans will be released publicly.

That kind of attitude engenders distrust and helps no one. The Government must ensure the public have confidence in the regulatory processes and minimum requirements and standards they put in place.

Science can only inform the debate. It doesn’t take sides and at the end of the day it’s the Government that sets environmental bottom lines and determines what level of risk to our environment is justified when weighed against any potential benefits. And science makes no moral or ethical judgements. Science will never tell us whether or not we should drill for oil in deep sea conditions but it is the foundation on which to begin that very important public discussion – a discussion the National Government must not shy away from given their desire to accelerate exploratory drilling in our deep sea marine environment.

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24 Comments

  1. Gosman says:

    The talking points out of that Greenpeace report were all about a worst case scenario that failed to take into account the significant changes in deep sea exploration that has occured subsequent to the Gulf of Mexico accident. Please don’t try and spin it as if the report in question was without question.

    • Moana Mackey says:

      I think you missed the entire point I was trying to make. The debate is an important one and good on Greenpeace for starting it and industry as well for responding. I wasn’t trying to spin anything I just think that if a Minister is going to criticise a report then they should have read it first.

    • Ovicula says:

      Which changes, Gooseman, and how do they improve things from the government’s point of view? Try to be specific and we can have a debate. Continuing with your spin is just blind adherence to “Blue good, Green bad”.

      The only significant change I’m aware of is that Anadarko has decreased its already limited liability to something like $100,000. I suppose that makes deep sea drilling safer for the CEO’s bank account, but what about the rest of us?

    • Aaron says:

      Gosman, speaking as someone who lives on the west coast, the only thing I want to hear is that there is zero chance of a sizeable oil spill happening here – because if it does, it means we’re finished along this coast.

      This new technology they’re talking about, can you tell us what testing it has had? Can you give us a real world example of it successfully halting a deep sea blow out? Can you give me some numbers to work with?

      I’m well aware that a blow out is a low risk event, I’m well aware that people in the industry will do their utmost to make things as safe as possible but the problem is we’re risking so much here – the ecology and the economy of the west coast for a few jobs and 5% royalties. 5%!!!

      While you’re looking up that info I suggest you also do a google search on the oil industry’s history of minimising the amount it has to pay in royalties

  2. YogiBare says:

    An excerpt from http://math.350.org/

    “Can you explain the math, please?

    Sure. To grasp the seriousness of the climate crisis, you just need to do a little math. Fossil fuel corporations have 5 times more oil and coal and gas in known reserves than climate scientists think is safe to burn. We have to keep 80% of their fossil fuels underground to keep the earth in livable shape. Here are the three numbers you shouldn’t forget:2 degrees— Almost every government in the world has agreed that any warming above a 2°C (3.6°F) rise would be unsafe. We have already raised the temperature .8°C, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the climate dice are loaded for both devastating floods and drought.565 gigatons — Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. Computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 levels now, the temperature would still rise another 0.8 degrees above the 0.8 we’ve already warmed, which means that we’re already 3/4s of the way to the 2 degree target”.

    If these figures are anywhere near correct, can someone please explain to me why NZ is looking for more reserves in dangerous, deep waters.

  3. Countryboy says:

    @ Yogibare .

    ” … can someone please explain to me why NZ is looking for more reserves in dangerous, deep waters. ”

    Yes , I think I can . Inhuman greed . Unfettered , unbridled greed . Marketed by the Banks and sold to us dummies .

    That , and I believe it ties into the paranoia of our colonizers , the Uber Rich , who are on their way to hole up here while the shit storm of their making sweeps the planet . The down side of living on a remote pair of islands is that anything we can’t produce needs to be shipped in . And what do we lack particularly ? Fuel oil .

    ‘ Don’t hold back . ‘

    ‘ We live in your world . ‘

    ‘ Zoom , zoom , zoom . ‘

    Intelligent and informative perspective Moana Makey . No wonder Gosman couldn’t grasp the gist of it .

    • YogiBare says:

      I’m shocked to think those cuddly, little Zürich gnomes aren’t working for the betterment of us all…yeah, right!

    • AndyS says:

      But if you take sufficient royalties from the oil revenues, you can distribute that across society, just as Norway has done. Is it greedy to create wealth for all your citizens?

      • YogiBare says:

        My information is that those proposed “sufficient royalties from the oil revenues” are around 5%…WOW!
        I just read this in the Herald- “Mr Cunliffe said Labour was ‘not opposed in principle to responsible and environmentally sensible’ offshore exploration”. I wish he’d explain how cooking the planet is “responsible and environmentally sensible”. Any royalties are useless if the planet is stuffed, why can’t he set an example to the rest of the world by refusing on principle to extract any more oil reserves?
        Oh, you poor, misguided, naïve fool I can almost hear “Countryboy” saying, while “Gosman” tells us we may as well make hay while the sun still shines.

  4. fambo says:

    Maybe government ministers who claim deep sea drilling is safe need to spend a bit more time in front of that television advert for insurance – “bad aint going anywhere”

  5. Jenny says:

    God Defend New Zealand (From Andarko)

    God of nations at thy feet
    In the bonds of love we meet,
    Hear our voices, we entreat,
    God defend New Zealand.

    Guard Pacific’s triple star,
    From the threat of oil and tar
    Coating beaches near and far,
    God defend Our Sea Land

    People of ev’ry creed and race
    Toward this nation turn their face,
    They entrust in us, to guard this place,
    God defend our Free Land.

    Typhoon Haiyan, be not our fate
    God protect our climate,
    From the corrupt politicians of our State,
    Make our statesmen Good and Great,
    God defend New Zealand
    While typhoon Haiyan took its toll
    Behind closed doors they sold their soul
    Defying them should be our goal
    God defend New Zealand

    Make our navy not be blind
    As a government wined and dined
    By Andarko and their kind
    God defend our Free land

    Police, do not enforce the laws
    Made to quell a righteous cause
    Help keep our coastline from Andarko’s Claws
    God defend New Zealand

    Island rampart on the sea
    Forever nuclear weapons free
    Makes us faithful unto Thee,
    God defend our Free Land

    Guide us in the nations’ van,
    Preaching love and truth to man,
    Working out Thy Glorious plan,
    God defend New Zealand.

    May God’s love for us increase,
    May God’s blessings never cease,
    God gave us plenty, he gave us peace,
    God defend our Free Land
    From dishonour and from shame
    Defending our environmental name
    God crowns us with eternal fame,
    God defend New Zealand.

    Jenny

  6. Murray Simmonds says:

    Amy who?

    ” a critical point the National Party fails to understand is that a true commitment to evidence based policy making means not being scared to have a robust public debate.”

    For the National Party :
    “Oil = Money.
    Some of it might end up in my back pocket.
    Therefore I believe in it.

    Public debate might reduce my profit margin.
    Therefore I don’t believe in it.”

    End of story.

  7. AndyS says:

    Policy based evidence. Sounds very much like climate science to me.

  8. Matthew says:

    Oh the irony!!

    The Greens going on and on about “evidence bassed policy” yet they ignore all the evidence which says Fracking can be conducted safely and still oppose it!!

    The evidence with respect to drilling for oil is that there is a very minimal chance of a spill (somewhere in the vicinity of 1/4000) and the economic benefits are huge.

    If you use an evidence basis as your reasoning there is only one conclusion you can come to. This is a good idea.

    • YogiBare says:

      Sounds like you have been watching “Truthland” instead of the “Gasland” movies!

    • Jenny says:

      The thing though Mathew is this; that though in the past when a polluting factory went in, or a dirty coal mine, or a potentially devastating oil well was drilled, people accepted it as a necessary risk to take for jobs for the economy the nation.

      The Green house threat changes all that. The sacrifice can no longer be justified on any level.

      The resulting damage to the economy let alone the biosphere is incalcucable and irrepairable.

    • Ovicula says:

      Maybe fracking can be conducted safely, but it isn’t. Why not? And what does a chance of 1/4000 of a spill mean?

      Congratulations for spelling irony correctly.

  9. DOUGAL says:

    Even if oil is obtained without a spill it will still be a disaster for the environment. Leave the stuff where it is safely underground.

  10. Marc says:

    Science, yes, that is where National just follows their ‘Smilin Assassin’ leader John Key, picking the “science”, or rather “opinions”, that suit them. Let us not forget the interview that he gave on ‘Hard Talk’ – that at times quite interesting, revealing program of the BBC.

    When we talk about science, yes we should look at all the science, and that includes such about climate change, the causes for it, and so forth. I think that Amy Adams conveniently ignored that side of science in some debates, same as others on the government benches.

    The IPCC has with the overwhelming majority of their scientists stated abundantly clearly, that human activity, that involves fossil fuel use, increased emissions and so forth, has contributed substantially to global climate change.

    This must surely be given consideration when expanding exploratory and later drilling for oil and gas off the shores and on the shores of this country.

    We know though that the government is not that keen on some science, and rather ignores it. That was even revealed by a report by Sir Peter Gluckman not so long ago, who happens to be John Key’s Science Advisor. Problem is, Key hardly ever listens to what Gluckman has to say.

    http://www.sciencemediacentre.co.nz/2013/09/03/sir-peter-gluckman-on-the-role-of-evidence-in-policy-making/

    http://www.pmcsa.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/The-role-of-evidence-in-policy-formation-and-implementation-report.pdf

    The “blinkered view” is very strong on the present treasury benches, and they virtually need to be dragged out to face up to the realities out there, as also some recent comments by National Party ministers to media revealed. “Climate change deniers” or “doubters” are disproportionately high in their ranks.