The Prime Minister’s assertions that there is no relationship between the Rena oil spill and the risks of deep sea oil drilling clearly don’t wash with the public.

Greenpeace launched a petition last year when the Government announced its plans to create a deep sea drilling industry in New Zealand. At exactly the same time, millions of litres of oil from a deep sea blow-out were spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from a well beneath BP’s deep sea rig the Deepwater Horizon. The environmental disaster has since been named as the United States’ worst.

Our petition calls for an end to deep sea oil drilling, as well as for a halt to plans to expand the coal industry, and a shift to clean energy. Once launched, the petition quickly gained strong support, getting thousands of signatures in the initial weeks.

The growth of signatories has been steady through the year but took a marked leap in the last few weeks as the Bay of Plenty’s most iconic beaches washed black with Rena’s oil. This week we clocked over the 100,000 mark.

The Rena spill has already been dubbed by Environment Minister Nick Smith as New Zealand’s most serious environmental disaster. But one can almost hear the global oil industry laughing that such a trifling volume of oil could cause so much consternation. If the Gulf of Mexico/Deepwater Horizon spill was a brimming 10 litre bucket of oil, then the Rena spill would be the equivalent to that held by a mere five millilitre teaspoon.

The Rena was breaking news around the globe, from Aljazeera, CNN, the Guardian to the China Daily News, not because of the scale of the disaster but because of where it happened – New Zealand.

And here is the nub of the issue. If the authorities were powerless to stop a spill that they had at least four days to prepare for, from a ship above the surface of the ocean, within sight of land, and right at the doorstep of our busiest export port, then how much worse hit would we be by a deep sea blow-out gushing crude 24/7 from thousands of metres underwater in the inhospitable ocean off the Bay of Plenty’s isolated East Cape peninsula?

If that were to occur, the current record for New Zealand’s worst environmental disaster would quickly fall. As Labour leader Phil Goff rightly points out: “How would New Zealand cope with a Gulf of Mexico situation when even the wealthiest country in the world couldn’t cope?” Such a spill could see vast swathes of our coastline choked by oil.

Tthere is a lingering sense that the response to the Rena grounding was inefficient - but even if it was the “best possible” response to what is a relatively minor spill, as Maritime NZ and the Government claim, then that should justify an even greater pause for thought.

You cannot eliminate all risk – that is a reality of science and nature. But even the cold economic risk / benefit analysis of deep sea oil drilling must weigh the probability of failure with the magnitude of harm that would come from a catastrophic failure, to properly confirm if deep sea oil is or is not the right industry for New
Zealand.

In a country like ours, where our marine coastal environment earns us billions annually, and makes up the very fibre of our cultural identity – as the figure of 7000 clean-up volunteers in the Bay of Plenty attests, we only need one relatively bad oil blow out in thirty years to totally eliminate any economic gain made by the industry. In the process the known death toll of 1,400 seabirds from the Rena spill would rapidly climb to the tens of thousands. Such an event could also be enough to trigger the extinction of some of those rarer native birds, like the bold dotterels that live, like the rest of us, in the precious marine coastal environment of these South Seas isles.

To sign the petition against new offshore oil drilling, click here.