Whanau Apanui greet Greenpeace on the East Coast

The banners that welcomed the new Rainbow Warrior into Auckland read “Haere Mai” – Welcome home.  The state of the art ship is here in her spiritual home to bring attention to the fact that John Key and his cronies have reckless plans for the seas that surround our beautiful country. 

The New Zealand government has been selling off large chunks of the oceans to foreign oil companies with a view to exploratory, very experimental, very very deep sea oil exploration and drilling. 

Ask any rigger and they will tell you that drilling for oil is a risky business at the best of times, but the deeper you go, the higher the risk of an accident, the higher the cost to the environment and the lower the economic returns to the Oil companies and to the country.  It is a high risk, low return venture and it smacks of desperation.

I come from Scotland and I remember the buzz about North Sea Oil when the rigs started exploratory drilling off the coast of Aberdeen.  The hype at the time was all about the fiscal benefits Scotland would enjoy, but what transpired was something quite different.  Scotland became poorer as a result.  Sure there was a little more money coming from the pay packets of the riggers themselves, but the ‘trickle down’ effect was marginal to say the least.  I don’t remember the deep sea oil drilling managing to stave off the depression of the nineteen seventies, or softening the blow of the stock market crash of the late eighties and it certainly made no difference at all in two thousand and eight when the world economy turned south. 

What I do remember is the night of the Piper Alpha disaster that killed one hundred and sixty seven men, and I do remember the Gannet Platform spewing crude into the North Sea and I do remember the Elgin Platform’s poisonous gas cloud that spread across the sea as far as four miles creating a no-go area and I do remember the fact that none of this made Scotland any richer, and I pray that New Zealand doesn’t fall for the same snake oil salesman’s pitch.

The New Zealand government are pushing this high risk auction of the seas as a panacea for all our ills, saying that if we follow them to somewhere over the oily rainbow we will find a New Jerusalem, but its sheer fantasy.  The truth of it is more akin to asking the New Zealand public to swallow this sour medicine in the vain hope we might somehow puke up a unicorn.

The only winners in this equation are the board and the shareholders of the foreign oil companies.  We take all the risk and they reap all the rewards.  Our people lose their lives, our seas are poisoned and our traditional ways are destroyed.

Now even the Oil companies are realising that the task is just too risky for them and they don’t want a bar of it.  First Petrobras pulled out, on the back of sustained resistance by Te Whanau a Apanui working with the support of local sailors, fishermen and Greenpeace (much more on this in a future post) which was a major blow to the Government and now the American oil company ‘Apache’ have said that they have “…reviewed where we are at and decided to invest our money elsewhere.” So they are heading home too. 

The great news for New Zealand is that as each individual oil company realises that they won’t get an easy run of it in New Zealand and decide to pull out, the opportunity becomes less and less attractive for any oil company to come here at all. 

Let’s break it down, here’s how it goes…

1: The NZ Government sell off licences for exploratory deep sea drilling to foreign oil companies.

2: The Foreign oil companies club together and share the cost of bringing infrastructure and an oil rigs to New Zealand.

3: The fewer companies that can share that cost, the less attractive the opportunity and the less likely it becomes that any oil company will shoulder that burden alone.

So as you can no doubt see, each time we come together, we become stronger and we can make the next Petrobras or Apache Oil decide that it just isn’t worth the effort, the closer and closer we get to safe guarding our seas.

Each victory in this sustained campaign is a small step forward.  It may take some time, but together we are sailing our waka in the right direction.


Local East Coast Whanau a Apanui, Greenpeace campaigners and Rainbow Warrior crew celebrate the end of the Petrobras deep sea oil drilling threat to the Raukumara Basin off the East Coast. (C) GREENPEACE / MARPLE