Bearing witness: oil at sea

Pursuing the last drop of oil should not be on the agenda of any country which takes climate change seriously. That’s why I applaud the Greenpeace and Te Whanau a Apanui action in endeavouring – successfully for a time – to stop the Petrobas seismic testing vessel off the East Cape. Potential danger to the marine environment is one of the reasons for the protest, and in the thinking of Greenpeace climate change is the other. The action is part of their longer term campaign against new oil and coal development in favour of a clear orientation to the clean technology which would show New Zealand was serious about moving to a low-carbon world.

Prime Minister John Key, unsurprisingly, doesn’t share my pleasure in what Greenpeace is doing. They are standing in the way of “better jobs and better incomes” he says in the Herald. This is legitimate exploration work that could benefit the New Zealand economy. No mention of climate change here. He does acknowledge that there are environmental risks to be considered, but he appears to be thinking only of spills, and believes those risks can be managed.

Admittedly the question of oil is difficult in some respects. There is clearly a need to continue using it while alternative means of powering transport are developed. But when it comes to deep sea drilling, tar sands and shale oil, companies are pursuing oil to the last drop and at great environmental risk and cost. In the case of New Zealand we are putting far more government support into oil exploration in extreme environments than into clean energy development. Desperation (and greed) over a fast diminishing resource is no substitute for the development of the technologies which will all too soon become another exercise in desperation if we don’t start setting them in place now.

The government plans are unlikely to be more than temporarily held up by the Greenpeace action. One way or another the protest flotilla will be dispersed and the survey will resume. The mantra of jobs and incomes will continue to be repeated and the environmental risks downplayed. If there is oil there (and I, unpatriotically, hope there isn’t) it will be drilled for, brought to land, and burned, unless by that time the world has woken up to the danger of what we are doing.

Does this make the Greenpeace action rather pointless?  Not in my worldview. It is in the Quaker tradition of “bearing witness”, a term Greenpeace is happy to use. Governments can spurn the message, but at least it has been delivered: dramatically and disruptively perhaps, but with an underlying quiet clarity of purpose which hopefully will have many New Zealanders thinking about the wisdom of the government’s course.

You can see a short video of the action and a statement from Greenpeace climate campaigner Vanessa Atkinson here.

28 thoughts on “Bearing witness: oil at sea”

  1. I unconditionally support the right to peaceful protest. But is this the case here? Are there better ways for Greenpeace to get this message across without risking the economic prosperity of New Zealander’s who do not share their ideals? Their actions are endangering much needed investment, investment that most New Zealanders support. This action is too extreme for me, and Petrobus should be able to sue Greenpeace for any financial loss they have incurred due to Greenpeace’s intentional disruption of a lawful activity. Greenpeace would get more support from the New Zealand public by protesting in central Wellington or Auckland. There recent actions have been economically reckless and at odds with the opinions of most New Zealanders.

    On the issue of New Zealand pursuing alternative fuels, the two issues are quite separate. Petrobus are taking a gamble there will still be a demand for oil at the time this is able to be mined. This may or may not be burned in New Zealand.

    New Zealand will invest money in alternate fuels based on risk and return. We will or will not drive cars that run on petrol regardless of what occurs off the East Cape.

    This exploration will simply allow NZ to export a commodity that the world has demand for. Not doing so would not reduce emissions – the next most expensive barrel would simply be mined. Only those that are willing to martyr themselves, and other New Zealanders, do not see this. New Zealand should continue to support a global agreement on climate change, but in the meantime sacrificing our own economy will not achieve emissions stabilisation.

  2. Well, R2D2, I beg to differ. The Climate Change angle of the current protest is just one of many facets of the issue.
    The primal reason for protest is the large risk of coastal pollution from ultra-deep drilling spot on inside NZ’s main subduction earthquake zone. The depth of the ocean there is up to twice the Deep Water Horizon blowout. And there is not a single major deep water drilling area in the world that has not seen massive oil spills in the past. The Deep Water Horizon catastrophe was not even the biggest. The Niger delta probably is host to the most damaging oil spills over time.
    And economically NZ has much more to loose with a wrecked North Island coast than the meager percentage in mining royalties that we would get from the exploitation of the oil resource. 80% of the profits from the oil exploration will go to the company (Petrobas) with only 20% of the declared profits coming to the government books.
    With deep water exploration being very costly, only a small amount of the oil price per barrel will end up as profit. Do the math.
    And the highly specialized employment common to offshore oil rigs will not create many on-shore jobs with many experts likely repatriating their salary to their overseas homes too.
    So when all this is added up and then the Climate Change aspect explored on top of it all, it makes not much sense anymore.
    At some stage we will need to draw the line between reasonable exploration and unreasonable risk. This project has passed that line and good on Greenpeace to put the spotlight on this.

    I was part of the 95 NZ peace fleet at Moruroa. I know that small fleets of dedicated people can bring about change. NZ’s well reasoned anti-nuclear arms stand has a huge majority and unlike R2D2 I would think that NZers will side on balance of the argument with Greenpeace on this one as they sided with the anti-mining in national parks movement.

  3. Where do these morons think the petrol and oil for their outboard motors comes from? And for the vehicles they used to get themselves to the jetty that morning. Someone somewhere had to drill for it. Or has that inconvenient little detail escaped their notice?

    This reminds me of an encounter I had a couple of years ago with a dour bunch of greenies here in Christchurch. They wanted to eradicate motorized transport (yawn!) and had a stand set up in the Arts Centre with an old rusted combustion engine on display as part of their show-and-tell lesson, clearly intended as an example of the “evils” of fossil fuels. So I walked up to the chief greenie doing the talking (you can usually tell who’s the boss: the scruffiest and smelliest one because for some reason greenies have a universal fear of bathing and deodorants) and I asked him how he got the engine block there. “It’s really heavy” I said to him, “so did you hump it into town in a wheel barrow or did you transport it in the back of a ute with its “evil” combustion engine doing all the work for you?” Obviously it was a ute or similar such vehicle. But he couldn’t see the contradiction or inconsistency (as is usually the case with fanatics) and started haranguing me with his green dogma like a trained robot. My cynical question went straight over his head. No surprise there though because dogmatic greenies just don’t get irony. Nor humour for that matter. But I had fun.

    1. Hey Joe I had the same experience at the Farm Days at the Libertarian party stand. I asked a few questions about personal responsbility and taking ownership of the costs we impose on future generations and I was harangued for 15 minutes. Talk about laugh.

      P.S. This greenie is going for his daily shower (60% solar hot water, yearly average))

      1. But you missed the point Doug, which is about consistency. The Greenpeace protesters are protesting against oil exploration and its subsequent drilling, but they are happy to use it in their outboards as they scoot about the high seas bitchin and moanin about it. While the anti-fossil fuel brigade hate the combustion engine with a passion, but they used one to transport their rusted exhibit to their show and tell rant fest!

        Enjoy your solar-powered shower while the sun is out!

        1. Nonsense. See joe.fone you did not look at the picture very clearly. The vessels on which the protesters got there and on which they stay are sailing vessels. Now try to outrun a oil exploration research vessel with a rowing dinghy.
          Happy straw man building then.

    2. Can I suggest that if Joe is going to return he joins John D in the permanent moderation queue? I really don’t see why we have to put up with the ‘these morons’ ‘scruffiest’ and smelliest of the bunch’ ‘greenies have universal fear of bathing and deodorants’ etc. stuff – as becomes apparent every time he makes an appearance, Joe clearly has ‘issues’ with people whose intellects threaten him, and I really can’t see why he needs to be allowed to play this out on us.

      ‘Humour’ and ‘fun’ you reckon, Joe? Why is it that this kind of sub-Rodney Dangerfield crass oafishness is so often held to be the pinnacle of wit on your side of the argument, do you think? Because you can’t do any better, perhaps?

  4. Apparently R2 has difficulty distinguishing between peaceful and inconvenient. In this case Greenpeace’s protest is inconvenient as they are certainly preventing or inhibiting Petrobras’ activities but are certainly not violent.
    Given that all social progress has had at its core political movements that have advocated peaceful non-compliance to authority I have to ask why does R2 think that this action is too extreme?

  5. Oh right I see. And you have never engaged in derogatory terms yourself, nor any of your fellow warmists on this blog I suppose. You have always adhered absolutely and strictly to scientific debate, avoiding sarcasm and ridicule. Yeah right!

    As per usual with you AGW fanatics, you fail to see the big picture and carefully side-step the actual issues. There was nothing at all wrong with the point I was making which, yet again, is about consistency. I asked a perfectly valid question and pointed out a valid flaw in the reasoning of the aforementioned greenies: where do they think the petrol and oil used in their outboards comes from? Someone somewhere had to drill for it. The very activity they are up in arms about. And again similarly, how did the anti-fossil fuel fanatic I mentioned transport his rusty combustion engine to his show-&-tell stand so that he could use it as a prop for his rant fest? Like other such fanatics, they say one thing and do another.

    They have no consistency and no commitment to their own causes. Ipso facto I have no respect for them or their message.

    1. Sometimes, Joe, practicalities intrude on ideals. Yes, Greenpeace are using petrol-powered outboards (& presumably diesel-powered yachts) but if they want to protest effectively, they can’t wait until the last drop of oil runs out and Big Oil get around to finding alternatives. By then the planet will be knackered… well, the planet won’t notice but humanity will have big problems.
      What I find disappointing is that so far, I haven’t heard any mention in the MSM* of just what it is GP are protesting about. NatRad this AM got sidetracked on the Iwi up north sniffy about not being consulted properly, no mention at all of the peril Lifeboat Earth is in.
      *(not that I’ve gone looking yet)

    2. ‘These geniuses’ would be sarcastic, Joe – it’s OK, a lot of people don’t get it – ‘these morons’ etc. is just, um, moronic.

      You haven’t appeared for ages, and your first effort upon returning is just the same bilious nonsense. It’s hardly clever, is it? Witty? Provocative? Nah, just dreary, unimaginative filth, day in, day out.

      And do you really think that shop-worn argument impresses anybody? Let’s see; the internet was designed by really, really smart people who believe in what science tells us, Joe, and yet here you are pounding away on a keyboard! Any little ironies there, do you think?

      Like John D, how do you imagine you’re advancing your cause?

      Nobody here actually believes your story about the ‘fossil fuel fanatic’, incidentally. Would you credit such a tendentious, abusive account from such a poisonously bigoted source? Does it ever occur to you how much you’re debasing yourself in all this?

      The person you have no respect for is yourself.

  6. I think that the concerns are
    1 deep sea drilling, lack of controls for potential serious effects (non cliamte)
    2 use of non-conventional oil to prolong reliance on FFs and pushing temps up beyond 2 degree C
    3 The lack of action by Govt or investment by industry in alternatives to non-conventional to reduce above reliance.

    The point I was making is that we are all inconsistent to some extent with respect our personal behaviour and our stated ideals it is not just the greenies. Fanatics of all strips including AGW denialists are inconsistent.

    In their case they pick facts out of context that agree with their view and ignoring facts, and the context, that don’t.

    Which is worse the greenie with the car or the denier?
    I know which one will be villified in the future.

  7. Hi there,

    Given future risk/s which now almost everyone accepts the need of management for, can I ask about the relative merits of oil exploration. Meaning to say in what essential function oil recovery and (chemical) treatment merits thoroughgoing production? Would lubrication of moving metal parts for instance supercede combustion to Earth atmospheres?

  8. When it comes to Greenpeace and the like, dumb is as dumb does. This will have a chilling effect on hydrocarbon exploration and thus cost the fragile New Zealand economy hundreds of millions of dollars. Dollars that are much “cleaner” than those earned from tourists who fly to New Zealand from overseas I might add. And never mind that the survey will have have spinoff benefits for better understanding earthquake hazards along the Hikurangi margin and other subduction zones around the world.

    What the one-track minds of “greenies” cannot comprehend is the huge difference between hydrocarbon exploration and production in terms of environmental footprint and politics. It will be many years and several elections before any serious production could be contemplated even if resources are found. John Key and National know this, as Helen Clark and Labour did previously. Both governments hope that offshore basins around New Zealand have enough potential to entice Petrobas and similar companies to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars on exploration necessary to prove the resources exist.

    1. Mike, if we carry on excusing every oil exploration project no matter how deep, dangerous and doubtful it may be pointing to the economic consequences if not… then we will never be able to draw a line in the sand between the sensible and the non-sensible.
      The ultra deep drilling in NZ’s quake zone and in NZ which depends economically so much on the well being of our fisheries and natural beauty is past that line by a long mile in my books.
      It is dumb as dumb to not see the consequences of our fossil fuel dependency. Like the P addict we reach for the last drops of the oil drug despite knowing for well what it does to our prospects for the future….

      1. Thomas, if your are replying to my comment, then you should read what I wrote. I am not advocating production.

        The basins offshore New Zealand have hydrocarbon potential, but are little explored. It is probable that no economically exploitable reservoirs will be found – oil and gas are scarce and getting more so globally day by day. If reservoirs are found, the government of the day would be under heavy pressure to deny permission to go forward with full-scale development.

        In the meantime, the exploration activity benefits the New Zealand economy as well as having value for research on earthquake hazards along slow-slipping subduction margins such as the Hikurangi. One possibility would be for the revenue from offshore exploration licenses to be put into a fund for support of sustainable energy development.

        The knee-jerk reaction of the “greenies” on this one is just plain dumb.

        1. So you are saying that Petrobras will altruistically spend “hundreds of millions” of dollars on oil exploration in the full knowledge that they will never ever be allowed to drill anything they find.

          Yeah, right.

          1. You clearly do not appreciate the uncertainties of oil and gas exploration. It is massively expensive and usually unsuccessful. I’m happy for NZ to take Petrobras’ money and have them 1) find nothing of economic value or 2) force the government of the day – and voters in the following election – to make a decision on whether full-scale production should proceed.

            1. Mike, for once I find myself in agreement with you. A seismic survey produces a data set that helps us understand the geological structure of the subsea. Whether this results in any oil production is highly speculative. If a seismic survey looks promising, more detailed surveys are undertaken, and possibly, exploration wells are drilled.

              There may be other benefits to surveying the subsea, such as understanding the earthquake risks. In fact, marine and land based seismic surveys were undertaken recently in the Christchurch area for this reason.

              Mineral deposits also require geological surveying. If you want renewable energy, then this requires rare-earth metals (amongst other things), that will involve a similar kind of activity.

              Opposing data collection on ideological grounds – especially by swimming in front of a seismic ship in the case of the Greenpeace protest – doesn’t seem the smartest thing to do, in my opinion.

        2. Hmm, so you advocate Mike that we search for oil in locations that we know would be very dangerous and expensive to exploit and as you say risk putting huge pressure on future governments to go ahead and exploit these resources despite the risks?
          You are advocating a path that would lead to blackmailing our country into something you would not want to actually have done?
          Strange logic!!!

  9. Joe Fone, your straw man argument is derisory.

    To take it to its logical conclusion, “warmists” should eschew breathing, lest they add to the CO2 in the atmosphere.

    You, of course, avoid this problem by breathing from your colon. Keep up the good work.

    1. It seems the tag teams are at it again. John D Quixote disappears, but concern-troll R2D2 and ultra-troll joe fone turn up. I think it’s time to resurrect the denialists’ deck of cards…

      1. Yep! Out comes the trusted deck of cards please!

        I guess Greenpeace did not fail to hit a nerve (they usually succeed at that), At least the issue of oil exploration and what we expect from our future and at what price is squarely on the agenda now, something that otherwise might have gone missing in the hiss of the daily heat of the battle….

  10. Is there another way of thinking about this?

    What we know is that Petrobas are prospecting for a mineral which, when burnt releases a gas that has accumulated to dangerous climate altering levels. They intend to extract and supply this mineral into a world market which has no plan to deal with that unfortunate fact.

    This amounts to uncontrolled geoengineering of the climate of the planet by a private company or companies. By way of comparison, I bet if Bill Gates started releasing large quantities of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere to cool the planet there would be international concern, calls for an international code to cover such activities, research effects etc.

    I would be much happier about this prospecting if they could provide me with suitable assurances about end use and how the emissions will not further warm the planet or are part of a global plan for reductions over time etc. Until then, no more unregulated geoengineering!

    1. Thank you Tom for that ‘angle’. I used it in a Letter to the Press, but unfortunately the attribution to you and Hot Topic didn’t make the cut in the attempt to get below the 150 word limit (that only seems to be invoked if the contribution contradicts the Press)

  11. One point not mentioned much here is the noise output of a seismic survey; the air guns used can deliver well over 100 decibels, have been implicated in whale strandings, and just recently a study found damage to squid as well. If you’re not going to drill because of the danger of an oil spill ( I’m sure the fact that any oil drilled will wind up in the atmosphere won’t sway this government’s thinking) why bother blowing in the eardrums of every living thing in the area?

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