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The Bad Oil

25 June 2013 4 comments

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Deepwater Horizon

Gulf of Mexico, Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion, 20 April 2010

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The stats;

Event: Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion & oil spill

Date: 20 April 2010

Human death toll: 11

Animal death toll: unknown

Est. Oil Spilled: 4.9 million barrels of oil

Depth of water: 1,500 metres

Depth of well: 10,680 metres

Time to cap oil spill: 87 days

An international petroleum drilling expert, Stuart Boggan, has advised  an  oil and gas conference in New Plymouth  that capping an oil blow-out, similar to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, would take two weeks;

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Gear to cap oil rig has to be shipped from UK

Acknowledgment – Radio NZ –  Gear to cap oil rig has to be shipped from

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Two weeks.

Assuming that a similar disaster occurs here, of the east coast of New Zealand, at the Raukumara Basin – which is deeper than the Gulf of Mexico – how much oil could be released in those two weeks?

A simple bit of math:  4.9 million barrels divided by 87 days equals: 56,322 (approx) barrels per day.

At 56,322 barrels per day, that would see 788,500 barrels over two weeks.

One  barrel of oil is equivalent to  158.9 litres (approx).

788,500 barrels equates to  125,292,650 litres. One hundred and twenty five million litres.

By comparison, the  oil spill from the grounding of the M.V. Rena on 5 October 2011 released 1,800 litres (1,700 tonnes) of heavy fuel oil and a further 213 litres (200 tonnes) of marine diesel into the sea (see:  Rena ‘worst maritime environmental disaster’);

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Oil-Spill-Grows-In-New-Ze-001

Acknowledgment – The Guardian – New Zealand oil spill – in pictures

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The oil spill affected a coastline from Mt Maunganui to Maketu – and further beyond;

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nz_oil_spill_v4_464 coastmap

Acknowledgment – BBC –  Salvage crew returns to New Zealand oil spill ship

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It took hundreds of volunteers several weeks and months to clean up a mess caused by “only” 2,013 litres of oil and diesel.

Now imagine the horror of  125 million litres gushing from a deep-sea well at the Raukumara Basin that could be five to six times deeper than the position of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

Remember the the depth of water at the rig was around 1,200 to 1,500 metres.

The Raukumara Basin in some areas extend to over 6,000 metres (6 kilometres) in depth;

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raukumara-basin-map

Source: Ministry of Economic Development –  Raukumara Basin Fact File [699 kB PDF]

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When, on 24 October 2012,  Prime Minister John Key was challenged in Parliament over the safety of deep sea drilling, this was the exchange,

Questions for oral answer

5. Oil and Gas Exploration—Deep-sea Oil-drilling and Environmental Risk

5. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement, “We’re not environmental bandits. If we don’t believe drilling can take place in a way that is environmentally sustainable and wouldn’t put at undue risk the environment, we wouldn’t go with it.”; if so, why?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : I stand by my full statement, which included that we want to balance our economic opportunities with our environmental responsibilities; because it is true.

Dr Russel Norman: How is deep-sea drilling not putting the environment at undue risk, when just this month Dayne Maxwell of Maritime New Zealand said about the Government’s oil response equipment: “Most of the response equipment that we have is designed for near-shore sheltered conditions, and really there isn’t available internationally any equipment specifically designed to operate in the rough kind of conditions offshore that we have in New Zealand.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, that is one person’s view. I think it is also worth remembering that if somebody gets a permit to go and undertake these activities in the exclusive economic zone, not only would this Government be filling a gap that was previously left open but also there would no doubt be conditions on that. Finally, as I said yesterday, there have been 50,000 wells drilled in the Gulf of Mexico. Is the member arguing that all of those wells were a high risk and should have been closed up?

Dr Russel Norman: How is deep-sea drilling not putting the environment at undue risk, when the head of the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association said in April 2011: “You know, there is no absolute guarantee that disasters won’t happen, and if you had a major catastrophe, it would be just as bad as you have in North America.”—aka Deepwater Horizon?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I mean, the member asked me yesterday about the head of Anadarko. One of the things he did say to me in the meeting was that there were a lot of learnings that had come out of that situation, and that they can be applied so that those things do not happen again. Secondly, if the member is reflecting on a comment by an individual that basically says there are no guarantees in life, well, actually, that is true, but, on the same basis, the member will never get on a plane again, never get in a car again, never get on a train again, never do a lot of things he does, because the risk is that something very bad can happen.

Dr Russel Norman: How is deep-sea drilling not putting the environment at undue risk when a leak at 2.5 kilometres under water cannot be fixed by divers, and companies are forced to rely on robots and relief rigs, and this is diametrically different from operating in shallow water, like the case in Taranaki, where the deepest production well is only 125 metres deep?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: All of those issues in mitigation of any risk would have to be considered as part of an application to drill in the exclusive economic zone.

Dr Russel Norman: How is deep-sea drilling not putting the environment at undue risk, given that the Gulf of Mexico disaster was stopped only when a second rig drilled a relief well, and this Government will not require a relief rig to be on site during deep-sea drilling operations in New Zealand?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is jumping to conclusions. He does not know what conditions will be set. But, in the end, I mean, this is really the fundamental problem, is it not, with the Green Party. What Green members are arguing is that everything contains some risk, so they do not want to do anything, except that they want to give lots and lots of money away, which is why they come up with the only solution that that person could come up with—print it!

Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was not a question about the Prime Minister’s former job as a currency speculator. It was about deep-sea oil production. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I think we will consider it a draw at that point.

Dr Russel Norman: Given that the Prime Minister is putting enormous weight on this new piece of flimsy legislation, the exclusive economic zone Act, how does he think that this particular piece of legislation will plug an oil leak at 2.5 kilometres under water? Does he plan to shove the legislation in the hole? Does he think that might work?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think it is unlikely a couple of bits of paper will work. But let us cut to the chase here. We are a Government that is actually filling a gap that has been missing from our environmental protection. That member has been in the House for how long? And how many members’ bills has he put in about this issue? Oh, that is right—none. What he is focused on is printing money. That is his focus of attention.

Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was not about the Prime Minister’s currency speculation—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! On this occasion I invite the member to reflect on the question he asked. It kind of invited the sort of response he got.

Dr Russel Norman: Why has this Government taken a major anti-environmental turn since the 2011 election; is it because of the rising influence of Steven Joyce and others—environmental bandits within the National Party—who now dominate Cabinet and the Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Shock, horror! It is Steven Joyce’s fault. No. It is because this is a Government that wants, in an environmentally sensible and considered way, also to grow the economic opportunities for New Zealanders. That member wants to go down to the West Coast and say it is really bad that people are losing their jobs, potentially, at Spring Creek, while at exactly the same time he is stopping them getting a job down the road. I call that hypocrisy.

Source: Parliament – Hansards

I have re-printed nearly all the text of that exchange to show the reader that,

  • National has no answer to critical safety issues surrounding deep-sea drilling,
  • National is willing to engage in risky commercial behaviour for short term gain,
  • John Key has a cavalier, foolish attitude when it comes to serious issues like this.

In the Radio NZ article above, Stuart Boggan said that deep water drilling is not that complicated and Anadarko has been doing it successfully for 15 years in 15 countries.

Early last year, a  US Federal Judge made  a determination that flatly contradicted  Mr Boggan’s optimism;

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Judge Rules BP, Anadarko Liable in Gulf Spill

Acknowledgement: Wall Street Journal – Judge Rules BP, Anadarko Liable in Gulf Spill

Which makes this comment by Energy and Resources Minister, Simon Bridges a dangerous farce,

These obligations include comprehensive environmental assessments, extensive safety case requirements and also detailed oil spill contingency planning.”

Acknowledgement – NZ unprepared for deep water oil spill – Greens

What kind of “comprehensive environmental assessments, extensive safety case requirements and also detailed oil spill contingency planning” can possibly exist  when an industry insider admits that no such safety “assessments”, “requirements”, or “contingency planning” is available should a Gulf of Mexico-style blow-out occur?

John Key, Simon Bridges, and other National ministers are either badly informed or outright lying.

This government is engaged in risky, reckless policies that – if a disaster occurs – could have repercussions that would dwarf the Rena oil spill.

In fact, Energy Minister Bridges’ only response to this potential crisis has been to criminalise any sea-going protest against deep sea drilling.

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Crackdown on drilling protesters

Acknowledgement – TV3 –  Crackdown on drilling protesters

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It’s like a bad, bad dream… Except it’s all real.

Truly, the lunatics are in charge of the asylum.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 June 2013.

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References

NY Times: Gulf Spill Is the Largest of Its Kind, Scientists Say (2 Aug 2010)

Fairfax Media: Rena ‘worst maritime environmental disaster’ (11 Oct 2011)

Wall Street Journal:  Judge Rules BP, Anadarko Liable in Gulf Spill (22 Feb 2012)

Fairfax  Media: NZ unprepared for deep water oil spill – Greens  (4 March 2013)

TV3:  Crackdown on drilling protesters  (31 March 2013)

Radio NZ: Gear to cap oil rig has to be shipped from UK (6 June 2013)

Previous related blogposts

On the smell of an oily rag (11 Oct 2011)

Petrobras withdraws – sanity prevails (5 Dec 2012)

Mining, Drilling, Arresting, Imprisoning – Simon Bridges (23 May 2013)

Other blogs

The Jackal: Eyewitness account of the Gulf of Mexico disaster

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Evidently it’s a “balancing act”?

19 October 2011 2 comments

The latest “vacant optimism” from John Key,

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Full Story

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Answering queries about offshore drilling, Key said it was a “balancing act” between business and the environment.”

“Balancing act”? Jeez, has this man learnt nothing from the last couple of weeks???

Is this man for real?

New Zealand  is hit with the worst environmental disaster since Whenever, and John Key maintains an equanity stating that “we need to protect the environment as much as we can but not to the point where we do absolutely nothing. This is a tragedy that’s occurred of no fault of any New Zealander –  this is a boat that’s run aground and accidents do happen whether they’re on land or on sea or on the air.”

Well, excuse me, Mr Kiey – but the explosion that blew apart the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico in April last year, killing 11 men, and spewing 4.9 million barrels (780,000 m3) of crude oil into thre Gulf Of Mexico – was also no doubt an accident.

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Of course accidents happen. Only a fool denies that. But it takes a wise person to weigh the risks and arrive at a sensible conclusion. In this case, it seems blatantly obvious that (a) New Zealand could not handle the grounding of one single freighter, the “Rena”  (b) cannot extract 1700 tonnes of oil and 200 tonnes of diesel  (c) has had 300+ tonnes of oil leak into the sea, and (d) more may end up in the sea, as the ship eventually breaks up.

So the multi-billion dollar disaster of the Gulf of Mexico should serve as a very loud warning to us all: we have no way of dealing with a really bad oil spill.

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The “Rena”  was one ship; on the surface; run aground; with a (relatively) small quantity of oil aboard.

Now imagine an oil rig blowing apart, as the Deepwater Horizon did last year, spewing millions of tonnes of oil into our coastal waters, as happened in the Gulf of Mexico.

Now let’s re-read John Key’s statement; “we need to protect the environment as much as we can but not to the point where we do absolutely nothing. This is a tragedy that’s occurred of no fault of any New Zealander –  this is a boat that’s run aground and accidents do happen whether they’re on land or on sea or on the air.”

Is the man clueless or what?!

Just to remind us all what is at stake,

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Containers from the 47,230 tonne Liberian-flagged Rena float next to it after falling from the deck, about 12 nautical miles (22 km) from Tauranga, on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island October 12, 2011, a week after hitting the Astrolabe Reef. The captain of the Rena has appeared this morning in the Tauranga District Court over the incident and has been remanded on bail, and about 70 containers fell from the vessel amid heavy seas last night, according to Maritime New Zealand.

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A volunteer removes thick fuel-oil from the stricken container ship Rena washed up on beaches at Papamoa, near Tauranga October 12, 2011. The 47,230-tonne Liberian-flagged Rena has been stranded on a reef 12 nautical miles off Tauranga on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island since running aground a week ago and authorities estimated 300 tonnes of oil have escaped from the ship, causing the country's worst environmental disaster in decades.

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Volunteers remove thick fuel-oil from the stricken container ship Rena washed up on beaches at Papamoa, near Tauranga October 12, 2011. The 47,230-tonne Liberian-flagged Rena has been stranded on a reef 12 nautical miles off Tauranga on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island since running aground a week ago and authorities estimated 300 tonnes of oil have escaped from the ship, causing the country's worst environmental disaster in decades.

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Conservation officials remove dead seabirds as thick fuel-oil from the stricken container ship Rena fouls beaches at Papamoa, near Tauranga October 12, 2011. The 47,230-tonne Liberian-flagged Rena has been stranded on a reef 12 nautical miles off Tauranga on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island since running aground a week ago and authorities estimated 300 tonnes of oil have escaped from the ship, causing the country's worst environmental disaster in decades.

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A volunteer looks at dead seabirds on the shore as thick fuel-oil from the stricken container ship Rena fouls beaches at Papamoa, near Tauranga October 12, 2011. The 47,230-tonne Liberian-flagged Rena has been stranded on a reef 12 nautical miles off Tauranga on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island since running aground a week ago and authorities estimated 300 tonnes of oil have escaped from the ship, causing the country's worst environmental disaster in decades.

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Conservation officials remove dead seabirds as thick fuel-oil from the stricken container ship Rena fouls beaches at Papamoa, near Tauranga October 12, 2011. The 47,230-tonne Liberian-flagged Rena has been stranded on a reef 12 nautical miles off Tauranga on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island since running aground a week ago and authorities estimated 300 tonnes of oil have escaped from the ship, causing the country's worst environmental disaster in decades.

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A volunteer removes fuel oil from the stricken container ship Rena that washed up on beaches at Papamoa, near Tauranga October 12, 2011. The 47,230-tonne Liberian-flagged Rena has been stranded on a reef 12 nautical miles off Tauranga on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island since running aground last week. Authorities said up to 300 tonnes of the ship's 1,700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil had already escaped, causing the country's worst environmental disaster in decades.

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Conservation officials search for dead and injured seabirds as thick fuel-oil from the stricken container ship Rena fouls beaches at Papamoa, near Tauranga October 12, 2011. The 47,230-tonne Liberian-flagged Rena has been stranded on a reef 12 nautical miles off Tauranga on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island since running aground a week ago and authorities estimated 300 tonnes of oil have escaped from the ship, causing the country's worst environmental disaster in decades.

Source

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The unfortunate aspect to National’s plans to allow deep sea oil drilling is that governments come-and-go.  But the effects of their actions live on for years and decades.  Rob Muldoon’s canning of  Labour’s superannuation scheme n 1975 and the ‘Think Big’ projects, and Roger Douglas’s so-called “reforms” are but a few well-known examples.

Long after John Key has vacated Parliament, deep sea drilling rigs will pose an ongoing risk to our coastal waters and environment. This is simply not acceptable.

It is up to New Zealanders to call a halt to such madness when they enter the Ballot Booth on 26 November.

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Additional information

The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill by the Numbers

Wikipedia List of oil spills

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On the smell of an oily rag…

11 October 2011 7 comments

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Once upon a time – well, in June last year – our government announced the following,

New Zealand: Petrobras awarded exploration permit in Raukumara Basin

1 June 2010

Petrobras has been awarded a permit to drill for oil and gas off the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee said Tuesday. He said Petrobras had successfully bid for a 5-year exploration permit, covering 12,333 sq kms of the Raukumara Basin. In December 2008, the government released a blocks offer covering two permit areas over the basin. The offer closed in January 2010. Petrobras has committed to acquire seismic and drill one well within five years unless it chooses to surrender the permit earlier.

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Minister of Energy and Resources Gerry Brownlee, right signs an agreement with Marcelo Carlos Lins Vertis, International Upstream New Ventures Manager of Petrobras International for an exploration permit of the Raukumara Basin

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Brownlee says the government is committed to unlocking the potential of the country’s frontier basins. ‘Doing so will be an important part of a better future for all New Zealanders – bringing more jobs, more tax and royalty income, and most importantly, creating opportunities for long term regional development. To do this we need to attract investment from petroleum companies that have the capacity and capability to explore and build knowledge of our offshore basins.’

Brownlee says the announcement represents a major step forward in the relationship between New Zealand and Brazil. New Zealand is keen to deepen its economic relationship with Brazil, which is the world’s eighth largest economy, with GDP of $US1.7 trillion.

The area, from 4 to 110 kms off the coast, has never been explored for oil or gas, but Brownlee said seismic studies indicated ‘positive expectations for this basin as do the many oil and gas seeps over the adjacent onshore region.’  ” Source

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However, this decision was not greeted with unbridled glee and joy by all. In fact, the good folk of the East Coast were more than a tad unhappy at what was being proposed,

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Te Whanau a Apanui: Rally in Tauranga on Friday, 29 April 2011

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As is usually the style of right-wing governments, they generally ignore the will of the people. Especially where money is to be made.

This, despite opponents warning that  an oil spill from a deep-water drilling-rig in deep,  remote, waters off New Zealand’s coast  would be difficult to plug, and expressed considerable worry  about earthquake risks. Earthquakes – like the ones that have almost flattened Christchurch.

Raukumara Basin sits between Kermadec Trench and Kermadec Ridge, and has an inherently unstable geology… Any oil-drilling in the exceptionally seismic area would most certainly prove disastrous for the entire region.Source

It is also cause for serious concern that Petrobras was planning to drill in waters off the East Coast, with “water depths ranging from shallow coastal to about 3000m at the outer-most point of the basin” . Source.

By comparison the depth of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was 1500m deep when the ‘ Deepwater Horizon’ exploded on 20 April last year, killing eleven workers, and spewing an estimated 4.9 million barrels (780,000 m3) of crude oil into the sea.

In an article dated 13 April of this year, Gary Taylor from the Environmental Defence Society wrote,

An oil spill in these waters could have catastrophic economic and environmental consequences far bigger than cosmetic despoiling of some beaches…

… But the problem with our oceans is much bigger than lack of regulation in the economic zone. The broad suite of laws covering our oceans is outdated, ineffective and well behind international best practice. New Zealand, which used to be leader in oceans governance, is now behind the times. We do not have the tools to protect our oceans. Other countries have developed marine spatial planning as a key tool to manage conflicting uses in their oceans; we need to go there, too.Source

When protesters tried to be heard, the government’s ‘civilised’ response was… send in the police and navy,

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The united front of te Whānau ā Apanui, Greenpeace and the flotilla opposing deep sea oil drilling is holding its position in the Raukūmara Basin as the HMNZS Pūkakī arrived after eight days of surveillance by an Air force Orion. Source: Greenpeace

Source: Fire Earth blog

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High Noon in the Raukumara Basin as the naval inshore patrol vessel HMNZS Pukaki is sent to prevent environmentalists having their say.

Source: Fire Earth blog

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“Tuesday 12th April, 2011. We picked up an unexpected visitor steaming directly towards us at 20 knots – it was the Navy, with their 55m coastal patrol vessel HMNZS Pukaki.” Source: Vanessa Atkinson

Source: Greenpeace

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The government basically told people; “don’t worry – trust us – we know what we’re doing“,

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In the early hours of Wednesday 5 October, the Liberian registered cargo ship, ‘M.V. Rena‘ struck the Astrolabe Reef, 7km north of Motiti Island.

Official estimates state that up to 20 tonnes of oil may have leaed from the stricken ship, and have already been washed up on the shores of the Bay of Plenty. More may follow. Some estimates suggest 50 tonnes may have leaked into the sea.

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An oil slick streams from the Rena, a 47,000 tonne container ship grounded on a reef in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty. Photograph: Getty

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Six days later and few personnel have been despatched to clean up the clumps of oil that now litter beaches in the area. It is mostly being done by locals with buckets and spades. So much for central government’s assertions that they are “on top of it”.

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ARATAKI BEACH: Reader Brooke Money says: 'This is all that can be seen all the way down the beach - blotches of black, thick oil.' Picture taken Tuesday.

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As usual, matters are left up to “people power” to get things done,

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MUCKING IN: Michelle Forsyth cleans up oil on Mt Maunganui Beach.

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Animals have already been affected – some rescued but others have perished. As the pollution spreads, so will the “kill zone” in which fish, birds, and mammals cannot survive.

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SPILL: One of the blue penguins covered with oil from the shipwreck of the Rena at the New Zealand Wildlife Health Centre in Mount Maunganui.

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Gareth Hughes, the Green Party’s marine issues spokesman, stated,

“”We’ve had to wait days for international experts to arrive in New Zealand, we’ve had to wait days for equipment to come from Australia.” Source

Even the Prime Minister was peeved as he was  due to fly to Christchurch this afternoon to watch the All Blacks quarter-final with crowds in Hagley Park. Very inconvenient.

Recall what Gary Taylor from the Environmental Defence Society wrote,

An oil spill in these waters could have catastrophic economic and environmental consequences far bigger than cosmetic despoiling of some beaches…

This is not even a major spill from an oil-rig, such as occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in April last year. This is a finite, reasonably easily-accessible, cache of fuel in a ship on the surface of the sea.

Now consider what the situation might be if this was a drilling rig and oil was spewing from a drilled-hole three kilometres down, under the surface of the sea.

I think we’re starting to build up a picture now?

And to really drive home the enormity of what Petrobras and our government are planning, and the very real, possible consequences – I offer the reader this depressing ‘slice of recent history’,

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Full Story

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We have been given the clearest, most blatantly obvious warning what lies in store for us if we take risks with deep-sea drilling off our coastline.

It should be abundantly clear to even the most ardent, fool-hardy,  supporter of deep-sea drilling that New Zealand is simply unable to cope with major oil spills. We do not have the expertise, equipment, or organisational structure to deal with such an event.

We have been served notice. And that notice consists of one word, four letters: R E N A.

It is also a test:   just how thick are we, collectively, to ignore that warning?

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Acknowledgement of top photo, “Welcome to East Cape”

Torangapu Thomas Moki

Additional reading

It’s Déjà vu All Over Again

Gary Taylor: Sloppy oil mining rules too risky

World’s Largest Oil Rig Sinks

Rena timeline

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Next story

Evidently it’s a “balancing act”?

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