I never thought we’d be quoting the “drill baby drill” former US Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin on the risks of being too trusting of foreign oil companies but there you go.

Since the release last week of our spill modelling which reveals for the first time the extent of the risk of deep-sea drilling to our economy and oceans, industry and government have been inseparable in lambasting the scenarios as “scaremongering” and “science fiction”.  Of itself, that industry/Govt cosiness is a big concern - it leads to the same diminished regulatory oversight that was a key factor in both the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and our own mining tragedy at Pike River.  The willingness of our government to hide the actual risks of deep sea drilling has seen mud slung at the science behind our report.  As the week closed a very interesting document entered the public domain.  Shell Oil’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) for their shallow water drilling programme in Taranaki.  In it was revealed some key figures that further back up the parameters on which Greenpeace modelled.

Our modelling was created only because the industry wouldn’t release their own spill scenario modelling.  Central to our aim was to create plausible industry-standard modelling - ie pretty much what we know the industry already know but haven’t shown.

In our main scenario we assumed a blowout flowrate of 10,000 barrels per day based on known NZ flowrates.  Industry reps attacked this as implausible.  Guess what?  Shell’s model flowrate is 10,000 barrels per day too.  

Secondly we modelled on it taking 76 days to mobilise a relief rig and drill a relief well.  Whilst Professor Vennell of Otago University said that timing was optimistic, Anadarko claim it would take only two weeks to cap a deep-water blowout (even though it took 87 days to cap in the Gulf of Mexico and a full 152 to kill the blowout with a relief well) - ie, Anadarko is extremely optimistic.  Whereas Shell’s EIA says the mobilisation of a relief rig and drilling of a well would take 106 days for shallow water.  That’s a full month longer than our Greenpeace scenario.  Austrian Oil company OMV (planning to drill shallow water in Taranaki also) say 120-135 days.    

Another outright misrepresentation of our modeling was when industry reps stated we had modelled “heavy black crude”, when in fact we explicitly modelled only medium crude as a plausible representation of NZ oil types.  The weathering characteristics of medium crude are similar to the NZ crude types modelled by AWE and OMV.  Shell model condensate for Ruru and Maui.  Anadarko’s modelling appears to be light oil for Taranaki and condensate for offshore Otago.   Whereas it is plausible to expect wells in the known Maui field to produce condensate (as Shell assume), no one knows what might be found in the new deep sea prospects.  In fact the least is known about the Texan driller’s scenarios including their emergency response plan even though they are scheduled to drill in a matter of weeks at depths hundreds of meters greater than any of our current offshore production wells.

The answer is simple, “VERIFY” as Palin put it, “don’t naively trust”, as Government want us to do.  Show us the full oil spill modelling Anadarko.  We the public of New Zealand have a right to know what is risked by this drilling.

This is not simply a question of environment versus economy either, as Palin points out, oil spills affect “livelihood”.  Fishing and tourism would be hardest hit and recreational and subsistence use of our oceans and coastlines are right in the firing line.  Its obvious to many of us that this drilling is not worth the risk.  A more prosperous, job-rich and less risky future lies in the clean economy.

As a cautionary tale, there is something frighteningly similar about the conclusions of William K. Reilly, Co-Chair of the US Presidential Oil Spill Commission on the causes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and New Zealand’s current predicament...

“Our exhaustive investigation finds that none of the major aspects of offshore drilling safety—not the regulatory oversight, not the industry safety standards, not the spill response practices—kept pace with the push into deepwater. In effect, our nation was entirely unprepared for an inevitable disaster.”