Government must reconsider its plans to open up our oceans to greater risk of oil spills | WWF New Zealand

Government must reconsider its plans to open up our oceans to greater risk of oil spills

Posted on
04 November 2011
The Rena accident and subsequent oil spill raise serious questions about New Zealand’s ability manage the risks of, and to respond to, oil spills in New Zealand's precious marine environment, says WWF.

"The Rena oil spill is a tragedy in itself for the wildlife harmed and killed, the damage to the environment, and the impact on the local community.  It is also a sobering reality-check about the severe impacts of oil spills, and a wake up call about the risks of offshore drilling for oil and gas," said WWF-New Zealand Executive Director Chris Howe.

"We believe that the Government must reconsider its plans to open up our oceans to greater risk of oil spills through deep-sea drilling operations," said Mr Howe.

WWF is calling for a halt to new offshore drilling for oil and gas in New Zealand’s oceans, until the Government has brought in sufficient measures to reduce the risk of oil spills, and the capacity to deal with major spills.
 
Following a major oil spill, even the most effective clean up efforts only recover a fraction of the oil spilled. Oil can persist in the environment and cause problems for years if not decades, causing ongoing damage. 

"The Rena oil spill is taking place in relatively calm waters and weather, near New Zealand’s largest port with good access to oil spill recovery equipment. Maritime New Zealand, supported by some of the world’s leading professionals, is struggling to contain the spill. It is clear that New Zealand is not adequately equipped to deal with a major spill, from an offshore oil well, in deepwater and rough seas," said Mr Howe. 

WWF globally ranks New Zealand’s marine environment as amongst the planet’s most significant areas of biodiversity, yet less than 1 percent is protected in marine reserves, leaving the vast majority of our seas wide open to commercial exploitation.

WWF also believes the Government should shelve plans to open up more of New Zealand’s oceans to drilling for oil and gas until it has clearly identified what New Zealand wants from our ocean environment through an oceans strategy and implements this through a comprehensive marine spatial plan.  A marine spatial plan would protect areas of our oceans which are important for wildlife, as well as identifying areas where the risks of activities such as oil exploration are considered to be too hazardous, and preventing shipping from sailing too close to vulnerable areas (as with the Poor Knights and Three Kings Islands). It would define developmental controls in other areas.

The Government’s draft Exclusive Economic Zone legislation falls far short of what is needed to manage our ocean environment, including the risks associated with oil exploration and development and the cumulative impacts of marine activities on biodiversity and habitats.  It is much weaker than the Resource Management Act which covers extractive activities for our oceans out to 12 nautical miles.  It appears that its primary purpose is to smooth the way for the Government's Petroleum Action Plan which aims attract more oil and gas exploration in our oceans.  

"In the early stages of this disaster, the Government has said hard questions need to be asked about this spill, and WWF agrees.  The Government needs to ask themselves why they are increasing the risk of oil spills in our unique marine environment, when it is abundantly clear that New Zealand lacks the ability to manage the risks and the capacity to deal with a major spill.  The Government needs to ask why they are seeking to put our marine environment at unacceptable risk," said Mr Howe.

WWF urges the Government to halt plans to open up our oceans for oil and gas development, until it has established robust plans to manage the environmental risks posed by such activities.

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