NZ Oil and Gas (NZOG) recently described a one-in-five chance of striking gas in the Barque field off Oamaru as a ’game-changer’. It made glowing claims on its potential economic and environmental benefits. Climate Justice Taranaki rejects these claims completely.
The latest Ministry for the Environment report stated that climate change is already impacting on NZ’s natural systems. These include melting glaciers (25%), rising sea levels (already up by 22 cm), ocean acidification, more intense drought, changing sex ratios in tuatara and increasing wasp and bacterial infestation, etc. New Zealanders have the fifth-highest level of emissions per person among OECD countries, and we’re heading in the wrong direction, as our net greenhouse gas emissions rose 64 percent from 1990 to 2015.
Globally, the World Meteorological Organization has just warned that at 403.3 parts per million, or 50 percent above the average in the last decade, the carbon dioxide level in our atmosphere has not been this high for 800,000 years. We are at the tipping point of a major climate catastrophe, yet NZOG tried to tell us that there are environmental gains from drilling for more gas. The claim that gas is a ‘clean’, ‘ethically-managed’ transition fuel has long been refuted by credible scientists and organisations. Although gas burns ‘cleaner’ than coal, the amount of fugitive methane emission throughout the process of extraction, storage and transport is enormous and mostly unaccounted for. The health and environmental impacts of the gas industry, especially unconventional gas, are well documented overseas.
In terms of economics, analyses conducted on behalf of the fossil fuel industry have never been done comprehensively, as they consistently ignore environmental and social costs, and the substantial government subsidies and incentives offered to companies. A WWF report revealed that in 2012/13 alone, such subsidies amounted to almost $85 million in New Zealand, more than double that in 2009. This amount continued to rise, to $87.6 million last year, according to a new report by Dr Terrence Loomis of the Fossil Fuels Aotearoa Research Network (FFARN).
We need to be constantly vigilant about disingenuous industry spin, which includes flawed economic arguments as well as claims made in support of seismic blasting in search for oil and gas in the habitat of threatened marine mammals. PEPANZ recently claimed that the noise generated would be similar to that of a whale’s ‘click’. The latter has been clearly debunked by renowned marine scientist Prof Liz Slooten, Dr Leigh Torres and other independent scientists. Torres made this analogy: “imagine someone operating a nail gun for three months in your kitchen and you have nowhere else to eat. You would stay to feed yourself, but your stress level would elevate, health deteriorate, and potentially have hearing damage”.
Reputable scientists have made it clear that there is no longer a scientific debate that seismic airguns are harmful to marine animals and ecosystems. There is little doubt that Schlumberger’s prospecting application over 19,000 sq km of the Taranaki Basin would threaten the viability of the South Taranaki Bight as a foraging and nursing ground for the globally Endangered Blue whale. Greenpeace is petitioning the new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to refuse the application, and end all offshore oil exploration and the petroleum block offer process on- and off-shore. Sign the petition here.
Prominent international scientists and organisations have warned of the irreversible impacts of climate change on people and the environment. Governments worldwide have pledged to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition onto a low to zero carbon economy. Even the new Prime Minister has declared that New Zealand’s future is not in fossil fuels and pledged to assist the transition of regions (notably Taranaki) and workforce that have been reliant on fossil fuel extraction. Major businesses including the NZ Super Fund and banks are ditching their carbon-intensive investments to reduce risks of losses as the global economy embarks on rapid transition. There is simply no business case in fossil fuel exploration globally.
In a place like New Zealand, blessed with renewable energy sources, it is a no-brainer that phasing out all fossil fuels is the smart thing to do, not drilling for more gas or digging up more coal.
We can learn or rediscover how to grow food and supply our own communities sustainably without petrochemicals, based on regenerative principles, agroforestry and even the ‘power of poo’. We can become a responsible and generous global citizen offering our ingenuity to developing countries, rather than exploiting their cheap labour and selling them milk dehydrated by burning coal or gas. We can create sustainable manufacturing materials from natural products and reclaimed plastics. The possibilities are endless.
The real game-changer is when we finally denounce neoliberalism, wean ourselves off the ‘growth’ economy, and embrace fairness and a more caring and nurturing way of life and community values.
Top right: WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, 30 Oct 2017
Bottom maps: http://www.nzpam.govt.nz/