I think the Green Party is, overall, a force for good in New Zealand politics and provided it sticks to its core environmental principles rather than social activism it’s likely to do very well again at the next election.
But every now and again the Green Party requires calling out. And its implacable opposition to exploratory drilling by Texan oil company Anadarko off the west coast of the North Island is one of these times.
The hyperbole and rhetoric spewed by the Greens and other assorted opponents of deep-sea drilling for oil and gas is out of all proportion to the risks involved in this venture, and has been driven far more by emotion than it has by logic or science.
A campaign of fear and loathing.
It’s true that deep-sea oil drilling has risk. It’s true there have been accidents – most of them during the 1970s and 1980s, when the technology was still relatively primitive and safety and environmental standards lax by today’s measure.
The notable exception, of course, was Deepwater Horizon, which exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, killing 11 people and spilling more than 600,000 tonnes of oil into the sea.
A report into that disaster found a litany of safety breaches, poor decisions and cut corners, which sparked a wave of regulation- tightening at other deep-sea oil rigs around the world. Both the energy sector and governmental environment watchdogs agree the industry is far safer now than it was even three years ago.
Those risks will never be completely extinguished, of course. But the same goes for flying in a plane. The chances of your flight crashing are extremely low. Every possible safety precaution is taken. It remains possible you will crash. But you still fly, because the benefits outweigh the risks by such a large margin that most people agree it’s worth it.
No human activity can be made risk free.
The benefits to our economy from deep-sea oil drilling are similarly huge. The Government has estimated the potential returns at $12 billion a year if even one new offshore oil field is found.
In the context of our economy, that’s about the relative size of the worth of Australia’s mineral deposit trade with China. It has the potential to transform New Zealand into a wealthy nation with a high standard of living and first-class social services.
Other nations have become rich from deep-sea oil, most notably Norway, which has managed to keep its reputation as a clean and green nation while pocketing $122 billion, which it uses to fund the world’s most generous welfare system.
Greens and Labour have huge spending plans, but consistently oppose economic development which would help fund that spending.