James Rus­sell

El­e­ment editor

Element - - Contents -

As a child, I used to keep a sharp look out for money on the pave­ment. But the un­for­get­table bo­nanza of my youth was a ten­dol­lar note, which ac­com­pa­nied me straight to the dairy. I had a pe­cu­liar pen­chant for the ‘Pink Smok­ers’ sweets, and I knew in my heart I wouldn’t be able for the big packet – I was too small – but I asked for them any­way. Half an hour later the en­tire school yard watched with a mix­ture of hor­ror and de­light as wave af­ter wave of cerise vomit splashed onto the ground.

Could my mis­placed be­lief in my own abil­i­ties be much like the govern­ment’s, which ar­gues that we are quite ca­pa­ble of safely ex­tract­ing oil and gas from var­i­ous ar­eas around our coun­try, in­clud­ing the deep sea beds, and all will be dandy?

The logic can’t be faulted, re­ally, be­cause we’re go­ing to need oil for a while yet. It’s taken 150 years and tril­lions of dol­lars to get the planet to this level of de­pen­dence, so wean­ing our­selves off it isn’t go­ing to be quick. It’s also a given we’ll all be pay­ing a pretty penny for petrol from here on in, so in the mean time we might as well make some de­cent money, right?

It’s taken 150 years and tril­lions of dol­lars to get the planet to this level of de­pen­dence, so wean­ing our­selves off it isn’t go­ing to be quick.

But bit­ing off more than we can chew is what con­cerns op­po­nents of al­low­ing Brazil­ian ex­plo­ration com­pany Petro­bras ac­cess to the depths of the Rauku­mara Basin off East Cape – depths, by the way, of up to 2500 me­tres. Our Tui oil rig in Taranaki is in 120 me­tres of water. The BP Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon spill was at a depth of 1500 me­tres. It flowed for three months, dur­ing which time al­most 800,000 tonnes of oil coated 800 kilo­me­tres of coast­line and only God knows how much of the sea floor. At the time of go­ing to press, 350 tonnes of oil had es­caped from Rena. Feel­ing ner­vous? Whether or not the re­sponse time for Rena was speedy (ac­cord­ing to govern­ment) or slow (ev­ery­one else), it cer­tainly seemed to the arm­chair critic to take an ex­cru­ci­at­ingly long time – par­tic­u­larly given the prox­im­ity to New Zealand’s sec­ond largest port and the fact the reef was just 20km off­shore. Could we re­ally deal with a spill two and a half kilo­me­tres un­der the sea and 100km away from land?

It seems we may be, in any num­ber of ways, out of our depth. And – take it from me – the re­sults of over­es­ti­mat­ing your ca­pac­ity are not pretty.

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