Rash of oil and mineral protests nationwide

Environmental protests against oil, gas and gold mining have broken out from one end of the country to the other in the last two days.

Environmental protests against oil, gas and gold mining have broken out from one end of the country to the other in the last two days.

Shell New Zealand closed down a public meeting in Dunedin this morning about its plans to explore in the Great South Basin, offshore Otago and Southland after a group said to number eight to 10 people made the meeting impossible to continue.

A day earlier, a large group of concerned Hawke's Bay residents mounted a peaceful protest outside an exploration site near Dannevirke, owned by TAG Oil.

And in Northland, a group associated with the iwi Ngati Hau is blockading a gold and silver prospecting site recently acquired by a little-known West Australian mining company, De Grey.

TAG, the Canadian oil and gas company, has grown a substantial operation with onshore Taranaki oil and gasfields and is now exploring East Coast tenements, looking for hydrocarbons in shale fields similar to those opening up vast new oil and gas wealth in the US and displacing coal as an energy source.

Campaigners in New Zealand fear the use of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", to release hydrocarbons, although the commissioner for the environment has provisionally ruled it is safe if properly regulated.

The government announced over Easter weekend it would legislate to prevent protesters coming within 500m of an offshore oil platform operating in the Exclusive Economic Zone.

It has also sparked fears it is going back on its pledge not to mine in protected "Schedule 4" conservation lands by proposing to open Schedule 4 areas to low-impact prospecting.

The Puhihui licence in the Far North was recently sold by the Newmont mining company to De Grey.

"The opposition seem to have identified that the sooner they jump on these things, the greater their success is," executive director at minerals lobbyist Straterra Chris Baker says.

"They are very happy to run the line that exploration and mining are virtually the same thing.

"But the chances of mining are very low and you wouldn't be able to do that and produce toxic waste that impacted the environment."

De Grey is not a Straterra member, Baker said. "I have no idea what De Grey is proposing. It would be good to know what they've got in mind."

The Puhipuhi protest has been picked up as a campaign by the fast-growing global human rights and environmental activist network, Avaaz.org.

The protest at the TAG site included veteran Maori activist Mike Smith, who helped orchestrate the 2011 flotilla protest against seismic survey work in deep-water exploration licence areas held by the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras.

He worked with Greenpeace and local iwi Te Whanau a Apanui on that campaign.


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