After months of mounting pressure, the Environmental Protection Authority has now publicly released oil giant OMV’s application to drill a high risk oil well off the Otago Coast.

The EPA had been considering the application behind closed doors, until a Greenpeace Official Information Act request forced the Authority to make the documents available online. More than 14,000 people have signed a petition to hold a public hearing on the application.

Independent expert analysis of the OMV application has now revealed serious concerns about the lack of information provided, alongside technical errors, and questions about subpar oil spill modelling.

Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner, Amanda Larsson, says these revelations show the Government’s assessment process on oil and gas drilling applications is failing.

“There are just three members of the EPA who are expected to wade through more than a thousand pages of data on an oil drilling application like this and then make a decision, without any public input,” she says.

“We’ve had to spend months battling to get this application released under an OIA, which the EPA is due to make a decision on any day. The Authority only released it online after we launched a Judicial Review, and after a high school student disrupted their conference to implore them to make it public.

“It’s very worrying that the expert analysis we’ve commissioned has immediately exposed serious holes in OMV’s application to drill a deep sea well off the Otago Coast.”

Larsson says the application has several major problems.

The first is that OMV have not provided the full details of the model which predicts how oil will spread after a spill or a blowout. It is standard industry practice to provide a more detailed description of this.

“The EPA can’t be expected to make a decision on a high risk oil drilling application without knowing and understanding the methodology used to determine whether it is sound or not,” she says.

Secondly, Larsson says where OMV have provided some details on their modelling, it is incomplete. OMV claims that ‘Stokes drift’, which is horizontal movement of currents produced by waves, is insignificant.  However, the expert analysis concludes Stokes drift in an environment like the Great South Basin are “far from insignificant” and should be included in any study of this kind. The result is that the oil could spread much further than OMV are claiming.

OMV’s application also uses surprisingly optimistic estimates of how long it could take to cap a worst-case scenario oil blowout.

The company’s Great South Basin application assumes any blowout would take a maximum of 21 days to cap.

However, in a previous application OMV has made for shallow water drilling in Taranaki, it estimated a blowout would take between 120 to 135 days to cap.

In that application, OMV explained: “If a relief well was required to be drilled, a drilling rig would be mobilised by the fastest means to NZ. A typical time-frame for a drilling rig to cease its current drilling activities and mobilise to NZ is approximately 60 to 75 days depending on HLV availability. The time to drill a relief well is probably in the order of 60 days, but could be shorter depending on weather conditions and the depth of the formation causing the blowout.”

Larsson says there is no logic to the claim that it would take a tenth of the time to stop a blowout in the Great South Basin than in Taranaki, in a wild area of ocean where there is no existing oil and gas infrastructure nearby to provide assistance.

“There is something dangerously deceptive about OMV’s application to drill in the Great South Basin, and the public deserves to know about it. Our environment, biodiversity and livelihoods could depend on this,” she says.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster that devastated the Gulf of Mexico lasted 87 days and disgorged 650,000 tonnes of oil. 

It required around 4,100 kilometres of booms to be deployed, 47,000 people, and over 6,000 vessels including dozens of purpose built responder ships of up to 70 meters in length to cap it. 

Maritime New Zealand has just three 11-metre flat-bottomed inner harbour aluminium boats to service the whole country.