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October 4, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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Oil spills and drills

For me, many of most poignant images of 2010 have been of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in April. Multi-coloured metallic rainbows sinking toxically into the waves, a birds-eye view of an ominous ring expanding further across the ocean, pelicans snapped mid-flap, wings soaked with black goo. It was all quite upsetting, really. Tears were shed in front of many a computer screen as environmentalists everywhere let out a collective wail of despair.

And then the National government announced that Petrobras, a Brazilian oil company, has been given a five year exploratory licence for oil and gas in the Raukumara Basin (off the East Cape). It was bad timing, to say the least.

Petrobas is infamous for its record of oil and gas spills. Greenpeace Brazil has claimed that from 1975-2001 Petrobras was responsible for 18 major spills, resulting in 141 deaths and about 29 million barrels of oil spilt. Petrobras is also renowned for trying to keep these spills undercover and understating any accidents that occur. They’re obviously a super company to sign a deal awarding the rights to our ocean floor with.

Aotearoa is apparently sitting on a black-gold mine of fossil fuels. Saudi Arabia said so. When Gerry Brownlee announced a couple of weeks ago that “for far too long, New Zealand has not taken advantage of the wealth hidden in our hills, in our oceans, and in the ground”, his obvious implication is that if the fuels are there, then we must squeeze out every last drop of oil, every waft of available gas. In this particular worldview, natural resources exist purely for consumption, and consumption equals money. Here I imagine Gerry, his hands full of cigars and sherry, lounging in a smoking-jacket, lapels emblazoned with ‘profits before people’, chuckling as he gives out oil exploration packages.

As indicated by the Gulf Oil Spill, offshore drilling has implications for safety and for marine and coastal biodiversity. In Aotearoa, as in many locations across the globe, there are also implications for indigenous rights (um, seabed and foreshore, anyone?).

But we do need oil, right? I have a geologist friend (possibly now an ex-friend) who angrily berates me for opposing mining and drilling in New Zealand. He says that we do need to extract resources, so developed countries should try to use resources from their own lands, instead of fucking up poorer nations with lower safety standards. I dispute this; surely we need to stop exploiting fossil fuels now, because hey, their carbon emissions are making our planet uninhabitable. And it’s not just eco-idealism: there are alternative energy sources out there; we need to give them more love and more funding.

Instead of giving multinational oil companies Aotearoa’s natural resources on a plate, we could be encouraging the use of alternative energies and start questioning our patterns of resource use. It’s not just about the pelicans.

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