No Time For Fools

Local Body election posters plaster the papers, hoardings speckle the roadside, candidate meetings populate our calendars. Each candidate professes to have answers to our biggest issues, in similar but vague terms, as long as we give them our vote Number One.

But will the next batch of Dunedin City Councillors work to safeguard our future, or sabotage it?

One thing’s for sure; the government doesn’t seem bothered about the future; Energy Minister Simon Bridges’ annual lolly scramble for the oil and gas industry, Block Offer 2017, includes putting 210,884 square kilometres of the Canterbury and Great South Basins up for grabs. Iwi are being consulted as we speak, and local body consultations begin on 17 October.

As in previous years ordinary citizens have been shut out of the consultation, so we depend on our elected councillors to represent our views.

This year, the need to oppose new fossil fuel exploration is even more urgent. A report just published by the group Oil Change International calculates that to meet the Paris Climate Agreement to keep the world below two degrees of global warming we cannot afford any new oil and gas drilling. None.

What’s needed now is a swift, managed decline in the production of all current oil, gas and coal production.

What’s new is this: even the coal, oil and gas in currently producing wells and mines will take us beyond two degrees of global warming. As for new exploration? Ever once dreamed of Dunedin as a Taranaki-of-the-South, or a southern hemisphere Aberdeen? Forget it. You’re fifty years too late.

While the government ignores reality, local councils have got to take the lead.

Last year, as well as formally opposing the Block Offer, the DCC voted to divest from fossil fuel extraction, becoming the second New Zealand Council in the country to divest, joining the worldwide movement to stop investing and profiting from the fossil fuel industry.

Just two weeks ago the University of Otago joined the DCC in committing to be ‘fossil free’.


This is but a small contribution to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but the real issue here is a moral one; we can no longer invest, profit from and run our establishments on an industry that is destroying the world, and thanks to these commitments Dunedin can proudly uphold the moral high ground.

Dunedin voters urgently need to know if our next councillors are going to maintain our own growing reputation as a climate leader.

Who to vote for? Oil Free Otago emailed 41 councillor hopefuls last week (two had no email addresses) and received 13 responses, asking:

  1. “Where do you stand in relation to oil and gas exploration off the Otago Coast?”
  2. “Will you commit to submitting in opposition to the Block Offer if you are elected to the Dunedin City Council?”

Two candidates, Andrew Whiley, spokesman for the industry front group Pro Gas Otago, and Richard O’Mahoney, both support oil and gas exploration and will not support a written submission from the DCC opposing this year’s Block Offer 2017.

Neil Johnstone does not “particularly like marine-based oil operations for environmental reasons” but “cannot commit to or against any proposal that I haven’t had any opportunity to appraise”.

Nine others (Aaron Hawkins, Scout Barbour-Evans, Dave Cull, Marie Laufoso, Islay McLeod, Steve Walker, Abe Gray, David Benson-Pope, Damian Newell and Jim O’Malley) oppose deep sea drilling. Eight of these will support a DCC submission opposing the Block Offer while current Mayor Dave Cull will “commit to expressing the views of the Dunedin community as best we can ascertain them. On the last occasion DCC submitted, the overwhelming preponderance of views expressed by the community was opposed to further exploration and extraction.”

We did not receive replies from the other council hopefuls, but do know the views of current councillors. Here’s how those who are standing this time round voted when the DCC moved to divest its shares in fossil fuel extraction companies last year:

  • In favour of fossil fuel divestment: Chris Staynes, David Benson-Pope, Aaron Hawkins, Kate Wilson and Dave Cull
  • Opposed to fossil fuel divestment: Andrew Whiley, Mike Lord, Doug Hall and Lee Vandervis

The government has chosen April Fools’ Day 2017 for the new exploration and drilling permits to begin, but no oil companies have even bothered to bid for permits amid the roaring forties and furious fifties of our treacherous southern ocean since 2013.

Last month two oil prospecting companies, ION Geophysical and Houston based TGS, withdrew their prospecting permit applications before they were even approved. Anadarko, which drilled unsuccessfully off Taiaroa Head in early 2014, cut over 1,000 jobs this year, cut their capital spending by half, and asked the government for a permit extension. Shell is showing signs of leaving New Zealand altogether, after delaying its planned exploratory drill in the Great South Basin last summer.

Dunedin voters: let us vote wisely. This is no time for Fools.

PS: In case you haven’t voted, here’s a late response from Mayor hopeful Athol Bayne (who doesn’t seem to have heard that we can’t keep burning oil for 300 more years): Hi, my thoughts are somewhat different from most as while at the moment oil is the primary part of our technology its role must decrease to reduce carbon greenhouse gases and pollution .The dwindling sources of  new oil worldwide and the use of shale oil extraction mean the Great South Basin is unlikely to economic to be exploited before 2050 if New Zealand is prudent. There must however be put in place before exploitation begins a comprehensive plan and working anti-pollution measures need to be in place including putting export controls on usage of the hopefully NZ processed petroleum based products to ensure the lowest possible greenhouse gas emissions are enforced. The current Government policy does not meet these requirements and our existing infrastructure and technology as well as our nations liabilities for search and rescue could become very stretched, as nowhere in the oil exploration world encounters such extreme sea swells  as the southern Ocean.

I will oppose the block offer as it is too soon to be tapping the great south basin oil field and new Zealand needs to plan  the exploitation properly and not run off half cocked taking whatever crumbs are being offered. With proper investigation and planning we can get a much better outcome for New Zealand and once again the current Governments plan for raw procut expot is so lacking in vision we should process the oil here and export with controls a value added product ensuring the most employment for our citizens coupled with rigid environmental protection. Helen Clark’s government also attempted this but luckily the weather proved to extreme to be economically exploitable  and now National is trying the same tired old ploy of not getting best value for new Zealand.There is no hurry and we need to think long term as the great south basin holds in excess of 300 years worth global oil at current rate of usage  and this amount of oil  and green house emissions needs to be both exploited and controlled by NZ for NZ and world benefit as un restricted use would be irresponsible stewardship of this wonderful planet God has put us on. Regards, Athol Bayne


TPPA – The Facts

IMG_3374Watch out Kiwis! The government TPPA spin machine is winding up. Spin, bias and outright lies are coming at us from the mainstream media, via the National Party machine. Thanks to ActionStation, here are some of the facts to help us sift the truth from the propaganda.


TPPA Meeting 7pm Jan 29 Burns Hall First Church Moray Place Dunedin

12509548_702660126537379_7432458527207232963_nProf Jane Kelsey and Lori Wallach from USA Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch will be in Dunedin to discuss the next phase of the global fight to stop the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Get the latest facts from the experts.

Fossil Fuel Funeral

In memory of Fossil Fuels

In memory of Fossil Fuels

Oil Free Otago Media Release 30 October 2015

Fossil Fuels are Dead – Long Live Renewables

Oil Free Otago friends and supporters are meeting this afternoon, Friday 30 October, to mourn the demise of the fossil fuel industry. “The time has come to face facts” Oil Free Otago’s Rosemary Penwarden said. “With vital signs so low, recovery really is out of the question. Fossil fuels are on the way out.”

A wake for Oil and Gas is being held outside the Scenic Hotel Southern Cross, 118 High Street, Dunedin, to coincide with the New Zealand Oil and Gas Investor briefing inside.

“We want to support New Zealand Oil and Gas investors.” Ms Penwarden said. “They must be feeling pretty bad right now with their share price so low. But it’s time for investors to face reality. The first stage of grief is always denial, so we are here to support them as they move to the next stage.

“Even Energy Minister Simon Bridges is calling for fossil fuel subsidies to be stopped.”

“A realistic carbon price is just around the corner, and fossil fuel companies are fast losing their social licence to operate.”

Fossil fuels lost the race with renewables in 2013 when 143 gigawatts of renewable electricity capacity surpassed 141 gigawatts in fossil fuel-powered plants. By 2030 Bloomberg analysts predict there will be more than four times more renewable than fossil fuelled capacity, and by 2050 scientists warn that the world must have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

“NZ Oil and Gas investors should cut their losses and reinvest in a clean future.”


Funeral Pamphlet-page-001


#BlocktheOffer Dunedin City Council

Experpts from Siana Fitzjohn’s blog, Fossil Fools:

Yesterday I travelled back in time. When we entered the Dunedin City Council chambers to make a deputation on the 2016 oil and gas block offer I felt the clock tick back 150 years. […]

The council members (11 men, 3 women), Mayor, members of the public and reporters filed in and took their seats. We were all asked to stand, I assumed it was for a formal opening or karakia, but what followed was a full on Christian prayer, with all the ‘amens’ to go with it. […]

Rosemary and I […] implored the council to oppose the government’s oil and gas block offers. These are the huge chunks of ocean that are made available for companies to explore oil and gas. We had a mere ten minutes to unpack the issue.

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 8.49.41 pm
Original photo: Graham Warman

Now, ten minutes is not a lot of time when you need to cover

  • the deconstruction of democracy
  • the huge risks posed by deep sea drilling to marine life
  • our laughably inadequate ‘oil spill response plan’
  • the emotional and psychological impacts of an oil spill
  • the importance of our oceans for our cultural identity
  • AND the climate justice implications of oil and gas exploration

Needless to say we were a little out of breath by the time we were done. Throughout the talk I could not help feeling like we were medieval peasants bringing our grievances to the lords of the land. Councillor Hilary Calvert slouched […] and made little attempt to conceal her disdain. When the questions began […], I realised that the attitudes of certain councillors […] out-dated.

Councillor Andrew Whiley, […] spokesperson for ProGas Otago, […] reminded us that this meeting was about the oil and gas block offers, not about climate change. Congratulations Sir, on your belligerent refusal to connect the dots. […] Climate change science states that if we burn more than 20 or so percent of known fuel reserves, we’re toast. If councils compartmentalise issues they evade the moral implications of their decisions.

The next question was from Hilary Calvert, who asked me if I had made a written submission, and if so what did we think we were gaining by “having another bite at the cherry…”

[…] we were making the deputation on behalf of Oil Free Otago and the 400+ people that had signed our petition. I did not know how to reply, so I merely shot back, “I’m not sure I understand the relevance of your question.”

I should have said, “We are pursuing every democratic avenue available to us to ensure that this issue receives due attention. We’d gladly spend all day explaining to the council the infringement of climate justice proposed by this block offer. Frankly if you think that a written submission and a ten minute deputation is going overboard then I don’t think you comprehend the seriousness of this issue.” […] she had no alternative ammunition. […]

Another councillor […] asked why we wouldn’t compare Dunedin to other cities like New Plymouth and Aberdeen, who had profited from oil exploitation? Because, […] we’re about 50 years too late. The link between our fossil fuel use and the hazardous effects of climate change is now indisputably established. We no longer have the excuse of ignorance. We can’t afford to burn the majority of the fossil fuels that we know about. Any decision to explore for more fossil fuels now directly endangers the wellbeing of future generations and ecosystems.

It is clear that some of these councillors are still living in a fantasy land […] their opinions are relics of the ancient past. These select few would see Dunedin turned into the last outpost of a dying oil industry, with abandoned drilling platforms rusting away offshore as an ode to their idiocy.

[…] Every attempt was made by a few councillors to derail, distract and discredit the conversation. There is only so much time you can spend stating the bleeding obvious to people before you sound like a broken record. Take heart though, progress is being made, if at the pace of a sleeping snail. The council will rework their submission, despite not taking an opposing stance like we’d hoped. Councils around the rest of the country are looking more positive. Christchurch lead the charge to oppose the block offers, with Kaikoura following suit. This shows that local governments can demonstrate good leadership and respond to the needs of their communities. Congratulations to both of those regions!

ODT article on the Dunedin City Council’s public forum here.

media release 1 October: No matter the oil price – Deep Sea Drilling Has No Future

Oil Free Otago are pleased to hear that Shell has decided to postpone drilling in the Great South Basin (GSB) this summer, one day after announcing it is pulling out of all drilling in the Arctic.

“Shell should relinquish their Great South Basin permit and pull out completely” said Oil Free Otago’s Rosemary Penwarden, “just like they are pulling out of all drilling in the Arctic.”

“Both the Arctic and the deep sea GSB are marginal frontier regions. Scientists tell us this marginal oil or gas is unburnable if we are to retain a liveable world of under two degrees of global warming.”

“That is why, no matter the price of oil, deep sea drilling in the southern ocean, like drilling in the Arctic, has no future. We want a liveable world and we will oppose Shell, Anadarko and the others every step of the way.”

Shell say their decision to retreat from the Arctic was due to a lack of oil, and that postponement of drilling in the GSB is because of the need for further geological interpretation of the basin.

“Shell say they need more time to evaluate the complex geology of the Great South Basin” said Ms Penwarden. “More likely, they need more time to figure out how on earth to satisfy their shareholders now that there is no future for deep sea drilling, let alone the planet, if marginal oil exploration continues.”


Letter to Shell: Now Stay Away From The Great South Basin

OFO ready response practice run 12 January 2014

Dear Shell NZ,
Yesterday Shell pulled out of drilling in the Arctic. This is such good news for millions of people worldwide. We have one planet and the race is on to save it. The people are winning.
We are writing to demand that you now cease any further plans to drill in the Great South Basin, off the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island.
Your industry is a rogue industry without the social licence to continue. Already discovered oil and gas must remain unburned for global warming to keep below an un-survivable tipping point. New frontier exploration must cease.
Like the Arctic, the deep ocean of the Great South Basin is frontier territory. Any hydrocarbon discoveries in this region are unburnable if we are to retain a liveable planet. You have no right to continue; your extreme destructive behaviour is putting us all at risk.
Remember the kayaktavists of Seattle? Be prepared for similar opposition in New Zealand. All further efforts to drill here will be strongly opposed.
Shell: pull out of the Great South Basin now, or expect resistance. The people are building a better, fairer world and we are winning. Get out of the way.
Yours sincerely