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:
- “Where do you stand in relation to oil and gas exploration off the Otago Coast?”
- “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