I was in court yesterday with the Greenpeace lawyers and will be again today. But rather than defending ourselves after taking direct action as we so often are, this time we’re on the other side and we’re taking the Government to court.

Along with East Cape iwi Te Whanau a Apanui we are in the Wellington High Court  challenging the Government’s issuing of a permit to Brazilian oil giant Petrobras to explore for petroleum off the East Cape.

Yesterday our lawyers presented our case to the judge for seven hours and after listening to the evidence I was deeply saddened once again to hear that the Government seems to be all talk when it comes to looking after the environment.

Our case was backed up by evidence from three experts, including Professor Richard Steiner from Alaska, an international expert on the oil industry.

Professor Steiner’s evidence was shocking. He specifically outlined just how dangerous the exploration phase of deep water oil is. pointing out that the now-infamous Deepwater Horizon well was also an exploratory well.

Yet Gerry Brownlee, the Minister in charge of issuing permits, did not even require an environmental impact assessment before such a permit was granted. According to Professor Steiner, this makes our regulatory regime slacker than the rest of the world – including Nigeria.

Our lawyer summarised Professor Steiner’s evidence as saying “there is no other country as shabby as us”.

It beggars belief that a country that prides itself on having a clean environment, and indeed relies heavily on that reputation  economically, should have such a cavalier attitude towards protecting the marine environment. Even though New Zealand is obligated under international law, including the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention and the South Pacific regional Noumea Convention, to carry out an environmental impact assessment – our Government has arrogantly ignored those obligations in pursuit of a quick buck.

The Deepwater Horizon spill clearly showed that when something goes wrong with a deep water well, it goes spectacularly wrong.  The Gulf of Mexico spill occurred in water far deeper than most oil drilling at 1500 metres deep, and that extreme depth made capping the spill very difficult … but the depths in the Petrobras permit area plunge to a whopping 3,100 metres!.

Given the cost of that disaster has topped a staggering US$40 billion – and continues to climb – I think that the Minister should at least have asked the simple question  ‘how risky is this activity?’ before granting the exploration permit to Petrobras. But he didn’t. And he expressly told the Court that he didn’t take into account environmental matters, or international obligations.

As our lawyer put it yesterday: “This is frontier drilling, it’s deep, and it could be deeper than the Deepwater Horizon; it’s hard to stop a blow-out, and no amount of care eliminates that risk.”

We’ll keep you posted on the outcome but meanwhile we need to urgently get our No New Offshore Oil petition over the 150,000 mark – we’re nearly there and we plan to deliver it to the Government very soon.


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