Deep sea Drilling in New Zealand
Deep sea drilling will soon commence in the rough waters off the New Zealand coast. This could mark the beginning of an oil rush in which democratic process, public concern, environmental protection and safety considerations are all swept aside. The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around New Zealand is fifteen times larger than the country's land area - it extends from the sub-tropical to the sub-Antarctic. Like the Arctic, New Zealand's EEZ supports a multitude of species which travel from far-flung areas of the globe to reach these rich waters. Like the Arctic, New Zealand's EEZ is fast becoming an oil exploration frontier.
In the Arctic, drilling rig operators must contend with the extreme polar conditions and sea ice. In New Zealand, notoriously rough seas and the deep ocean will test the limits of drilling technology. The deepest offshore oil production well in New Zealand is currently 125 m below the ocean’s surface. In a matter of weeks, Texan oil company Anadarko will drill its first deep-sea oil well 1500 m below the waves of the Tasman Sea. This is the first exploration well in what is shaping up to be an onslaught of deep-sea oil drilling in the coming years.
To expedite the deep-sea oil rush, a legislative process is underway to remove any consultation rights from the New Zealand public regarding proposals to drill new offshore exploratory oil wells. Meanwhile, in May of 2013 the government rushed through a law, infamously known as the 'Anadarko amendment', banning protest within 500 m of a rig or drill ship operating within the New Zealand EEZ. The penalties for entering this 500 m zone include hefty fines and up to a year in prison. Like the Russian response to the Arctic 30, the message from the New Zealand government is clear: opposition to oil drilling is not welcome here.
The dangers of deep-sea oil
Public concern in New Zealand over this deep-sea oil rush is understandable. In 2010, the environmental and economic devastation that a deep-sea oil spill may cause became a terrible reality in the Gulf of Mexico. Vast quantities of oil gushed into the Gulf unimpeded for 87 days before the spill was capped. As a quarter share investor in the well, Anadarko (the same company at the vanguard of the New Zealand oil rush) were found jointly liable for the worst oil spill in history.
Read more at ENN affiliate, The Ecologist.
West Coast New Zealand image via Shutterstock.