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New fronts in battle against seabed drilling, mining threats

The public protests have quietened down and Anadarko’s drillship may be about to leave Raglan waters but the fight against both deep-sea oil drilling and seabed mining continues unabated on myriad fronts.

As the Noble Bob Douglas gets set to weigh anchor at the end of the month and head to the site of its next prospect off the Otago Coast, the Green Party is promoting an “Anadarko – wish you weren’t here” campaign around the country and Greenpeace – thwarted before Christmas in its High Court bid for an injunction against the Texas-based multinational – has mounted a television advertising campaign against oil drilling.

The Greens took their campaign last Saturday to Mount Maunganui, the home territory of Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges who was insisting at the weekend that the clear view of his Tauranga electorate was that there should be “sensible economic development”.

Meanwhile the ironsand mining issue has reached what Kiwis Against Seabed Mining president Phil McCabe describes as a “critical stage” for the west coast.

The Raglan-based environmentalist says thanks to an Environmental Protection Agency stuff-up, the submissions period over Trans-Tasman Resources’ application for a marine consent to mine ironsands in the South Taranaki Bight has been extended to next Tuesday, “which is great for those who didn’t get a chance to put their views into a submission pre-Christmas”.

KASM has been working hard assessing the scientific information supporting the application and preparing for the EPA hearing, which is now due to start by March 10.

“This hearing is undeniably the most important part of what has been a two-year campaign against TTR’s proposal … if TTR gains consent for this precedent-setting application there is little doubt we will see the gates open for the rest of the [west] coast.” Phil says.

He reveals KASM is seriously in need of financial support so it can pay marine scientists and its legal team for their work. The group has a target of $60,000 from public donations, but points out that “every bit helps” and that people can donate through “givealittle” on KASM’s website.

KASM’s also seeking up to $40,000 from the Environment Ministry’s environmental legal fund. “We’ve been deemed eligible for it but are getting a bit of a runaround from the ministry,” he says.

Against that, KASM was shocked to learn last week that TTR – which is foreign-owned and not listed in the NZX but has a former National Government prime minister as one of its two New Zealand directors – had been awarded taxpayer funding of up to $5 million a year for up to five years.

The funding announced by Science and Innovation Minister, part of an assistance package for 31 “New Zealand” companies, is ostensibly for research and development but Phil says in TTR’s case it will “facilitate the destruction of the west coast marine environment and send all the profits offshore.

“This for a highly contentious activity that has not even gone through the consenting stage,” he says. “It certainly is a novel, innovative and in my view scandalous way to destroy New Zealand’s marine environment.”

Meanwhile the Environmental Defence Society has hit out at the “low threshold” for offshore drilling operations set by last month’s court ruling against Greenpeace. Society chairman Gary Taylor says there seems to be a “trust us – we know what we are doing” attitude over how an oil spill would be handled.

The society is also concerned that any opportunity for public and independent expert input will disappear under proposed regulations to accompany the Exclusive Economic Zone Act.
The draft regulations – out for public comment until January 31 – would make offshore exploratory drilling a non-notified activity.

– A.T.


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