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The Press- News column Nov 12

Demonising Oil and Gas.

Remember back in the late ‘70s, the fashionable wisdom was the world’s oil reserves were rapidly running out? I distinctly recall my primary school teacher lecturing our classroom about it, in excitably apocalyptic tones. She scared the bejesus out of us. ( I also recall she frequently chomped on sandwiches over-stuffed with alfalfa sprouts.)  Remember back in 2005, the Green Party first started beating the “peak oil ” drum?  Fast forward eight years, and petrol was meant to be costing us $5 per litre by now. So much for the doom merchants. Thanks to the marvels of the technological revolution that is transforming the way we both find and extract oil and gas, the world is awash with the stuff. The latest Harvard University report claims the world’s reserves are unfathomably vast, if not inexhaustible.  Then there is that other “nasty non-renewable”-  nuclear. (Did you know that Britain’s new generation nuclear power plant will generate the equivalent output of 30,000 wind turbines littering the landscape?  ) As much as harnessing renewable energy sources is eminently welcome, oil and gas will continue to be prime players in the energy mix for many, many decades to come.  Fracking has spectacularly revitalised the American manufacturing industry, via the supply of cheap, plentiful gas. Yet locally, the Christchurch City Council continues behaving like a branch office of Greenpeace.  Last year, in a frenzied fit of emotional hysteria, the city was declared a fracking -free zone. A truly barking stance, given the council has no jurisdiction over any such consent applications. Now our council is taking aim at off-shore oil, with the deputy mayor leading the sub-committee that will express the council’s outright opposition to the proposed exploration of the South Canterbury Basin. I have huge admiration for Vicki Buck, but I don’t concur with her fundamentalism on fossil fuels. Buck has a variety of commercial interests in renewable energy start-ups. Is it not a glaring conflict for her to be writing the council’s submission? The city council has no express public mandate to oppose off-shore oil exploration. Nor has one been sought. Taranaki’s safety record in oil and gas extraction is a long and proud one. The industry pumps over $2 billion into the regional economy annually and supports over 5000 jobs. As the Parliamentary Commissioner of the Environment determined last year, fracking can be managed effectively and  there is no evidence that 25 years of fracking has contaminated  Taranaki’s  ground water or caused quakes.  Thankfully, both major political parties support the expansion of oil and gas extraction across New Zealand. If it can be done responsibly and safely, why the clamour  to demonise it?

Mike Yardley’s weekly current affairs column in The Press. Published, November 12

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