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Bureaucrats fumble oil spill plan release

Officials at Maritime New Zealand have spent the weekend scrambling to create a public version of Texan oil explorer Anadarko's detailed plans to control a major oil spill at its drilling rig 150 kilometres off the North Island west coast.

The risk of such a spill is judged "extremely unlikely" in a 250 page environmental impact assessment report from Anadarko, published on the Environmental Protection Authority's website.

But detailed annexes to the report covering oil spill modelling, an emergency response plan and a well control contingency plan are absent apart from their cover pages, with the EPA saying those documents are the responsibility of Maritime New Zealand.

But the MNZ website carries no information on the plans and the agency has instructed media, environmentalists and members of the public wanting to see the plans to request them under the Official Information Act.

As a result, Anadarko executives and MNZ officials are now poring over the documents to delete commercially sensitive or private elements of the Discharge Management Plan (DMP), which was approved on Friday, Nov 15, just four days before Anadarko's drill ship, the Noble Bob Douglas, arrived in New Zealand waters.

Disclosure of the variable levels of disclosure between different government agencies charged with regulating the health, safety and environmental elements of Anadarko's plans came to light amid growing public protest against deep-sea drilling.

A small Greenpeace-led flotilla of protest yachts is seeking to disrupt exploration drilling of the Romney prospect in the Deepwater Taranaki licence area, and thousands of New Zealanders gathered on west coast beaches on Saturday to protest against deep-sea oil drilling.

The company is due to begin drilling operations tomorow and it remains unclear whether there will be action to remove protest yachts that are staying within the 500 metre exclusion zone created around oil infrastructure in controversial circumstances earlier this year.

Anadarko's New Zealand spokesman Alan Seay said the company was "very happy" with the way government agencies had handled the application, although MNZ spokesman Steve Rendle suggested the issue had not been well handled.

"I don't think I'm talking out of turn to say we will be looking at ways to make sure this comes out quicker in the future," he told BusinessDesk. "We acknowledge there's obviously great public interest and we will be looking to get that (the DMP) out as soon as we practically can."

The Environmental Defence Society first drew attention to the lack of full disclosure last week, arguing the new law covering economic activity in the country's Exclusive Economic Zone includes explicit requirements on the EPA to assess the environmental impacts of a major oil spill.

The documents published on the EPA website were "not the final documents," said Rendle.

EDS head Gary Taylor said New Zealand was in the process of "making the same mistakes" as had led to the deadly oil well explosion and environmental disaster on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

"We can't be sure that the EPA has the competence to cut the mustard," he said.

In the documents from Anadarko on the EPA website, the company includes a map showing the most at-risk areas, in the unlikely event of a major spill, run from the southern heads of the Manukau Harbour south to Kawhia Harbour.

Anadarko proposes to spend between 65 and 75 days drilling the Romney prospect well before heading to Caravel, a prospect in the Canterbury basin off the east coast of the South Island early next year.

The documents say the Taranaki well is not expected to encounter any zones of abnormal pressure" but that the Noble Bob Douglas is carrying a Blow-Out Preventer device for use if control of a well were lost.

The company also has a contract with Oil Response International, an insurance cooperative created by the global oil industry to supply emergency oil well control equipment by both sea and air, with the closest bases in South Africa and Singapore.

The details of that contract were important, said Taylor, because of the large difference in delay between a commitment to airlifting equipment and shipping it to New Zealand if a worst case scenario occurred.

Comments and questions

In typical NZ fashion the emergency response plan for dealing with a potentially ecological disaster is to pass the buck , in this case to Maritime New Zealand who are as yet devoid of any plan or equipment to deal with a spill

I'm so relieved. I can rest easy knowing the Blow-Out Preventer Device is on the job! Phew.

Considering how much of the NZ economy relies on the clean green image (and it is the primary reason consumers choose NZ over other options when doing their shopping in some supermarket in south London) I am dumbstruck that this is turning into a PR battle in the hope of masking the fact that any major incident will be a disaster to the economy, the environment and the precious kiwi lifestyle.

When ministers and high-ranking civil servants can't take their kids to destroyed west coach beaches then maybe hindsight will kick in. Wake up you idiots. You have something far more precious than some short-term oil revenue. And it's worth a lot more to any oil find...

Filled with confidence, not. The resources available in the Mexican Gulf are not available here and look at the mess that was. We should stop playing 'wanna-be' and cancel offshore exploration until such time as disaster mitigation is clear and real.

Oh dear - suddenly all those who say the only thing that matters is economic growth have gone very quiet......

Due diligence..F for Fail

Potential for Criminal Negligence.. H for high..

Confidence in the Noble Bob Douglas even if they are carrying a Blow-Out Preventer device for use, if control of a well were lost or the Emergency Protection Agency and Maritime New Zealand..N for nil..
Just as well we have Simon Bridges eh?

Not a single one of these commentators has a clue as to the content of any of the documents referred to in this article.

Remember the Rena disaster? More than two years later, you still get sticky oil spots on your feet walking along Papamoa and Mt Maunganui beaches.

Drilling for oil and gas in NZ has been happening for nearly 50 years, but the proposed Anadarko drill site has taken on a special significance for Kiwis. More than another drill site, more than the risk of oil damaging the environment, this is an economic issue.

Let's get a debate started and start questioning how we can transform our economy to one that uses clean renewable energy, instead of oil. Let's look at how our financial institutions and government can fund and support R&D of wind, solar and geothermal energy. Let's create new jobs and economic prospects for NZ this way. The fossil fuel industry is one that should be wrapped up, not ramped up.