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Spotlight elsewhere but Anadarko already drilling off Raglan’s coast

Many of the holidaymakers expected to pour into town this Labour Weekend to enjoy Raglan’s beaches, surf breaks and harbour may be shocked to learn a Texas-based company linked to the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is drilling for oil directly off the coast, believe local environmentalists.

“We’re getting lulled to sleep because all the talk is it [the exploration] is happening in the Taranaki basin,” says one environmentalist, harbourside tourist accommodation provider Vera van der Voorden. “In fact they’ve been here a while, 100 kilometres off the Raglan Coast.”

The company now at work drilling a first well to a depth of just over 3000 metres is none other than Anadarko, the giant Texas-based oil and gas explorer whose plans to drill off the Kaikoura coast have townsfolk and whale-watcher ventures up in arms and recently sparked some fiery exchanges between broadcaster John Campbell and Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges.

While Simon Bridges described Anadarko as a “passive partner” in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Wikipedia says it had a 25 per cent “working interest” in the venture and BP has sent Anadarko a $272 million bill as its share of the clean-up cost.

Raglan environmentalists say an oil spill in the particular Outer Taranaki Basin block for which Anadarko has an exploration permit would have “the same effect on our tourism as down there in Kaikoura”.

“We should be as concerned as Kaikoura is for the potential collapse of our tourism industry,” says Vera van der Voorden. “It would be as disastrous and immediate as the Rewa [break-up].”

One local Coastguard member is concerned that there wouldn’t be a “shitshow” of containing a spill off Raglan – let alone elsewhere in the country – and recreational fishers angry to have found the exploration vessels working directly off the Raglan coast have been “gently harassing” the unwelcome visitors while keeping on the right side of new laws preventing protests at sea.

The “No Seabed Mining” signs which have recently sprung up around Raglan relate to a different threat, an application by Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) for a marine consent to mine the iron-rich sands off the south Taranaki coast. Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) chairperson Phil McCabe warns the consent – if granted – will set a precedent for further mining north to Raglan and beyond.

Vera – a member of KASM and also the Environmental Defence Society, a ”very strong and respectable consultative group” which complained last week New Zealand’s oil drilling regulations were inadequate – believes TTR will come to Raglan. “They realised our resistance so decided on a little exploratory area to get a foot in the door,” she says.

Vera says KASM’s experience in terms of sand mining shows that the Government has a tick-the-box process rather than the rigorous one outlined by Simon Bridges on ‘Campbell Live’.

She claims the Environmental Protection Authority – which will hear the TTR application – is a committee of people allied to industry points of view and closely associated with the Government. They believe the country has resources to be exploited, and “like Simon Bridges they see the environment as a minor obstacle”.

Meanwhile, she says, changes being made to the Resource Management Act mean “we don’t even have a right to put in submissions” on mining. “And if you protest at sea you can get picked up and charged with criminal behaviour, which almost goes against democracy.”

In many instances, she says, local Maori are the only ones left able to have an input.

“It’s all unravelling very slowly and gently, and we’re not seeing the knitting coming undone.”

Edith Symes

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