Taranaki’s first Oil/Gas marine consent – a death knell for marine mammals
Austrian oil giant OMV’s application to drill up to seven new wells from its Maari platform is the first oil/gas marine consent being processed by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) under the EEZ and Continental Shelf Act.
“If approved, the operation will pave the way for more intensified oil and gas drilling offshore, jeopardising the already perilous existence of many of New Zealand’s marine mammals and seabirds”, said Catherine Cheung, Climate Justice Taranaki.
Less than 80 km from Opunake, it would take just 5-7 days for oil to reach shore between Opunake and Hawera should an oil spill occur, according to OMV’s own modelling. Within 1-2 weeks, oil would reach Whanganui, Kapiti and Farewell Spit – a prime seabird breeding colony and known whale stranding hotspot. In a fortnight, oil would have travelled north to Oakura and the West Coast Marine Mammal Sanctuary designated for the protection of the critically endangered Maui’s Dolphin.
“People may think ‘she’ll be right – nothing to worry about’, but OMV already has had two oil spills from its floating production vessel at Maari in October 2010, when oil blobs were spotted along the Kapiti Coast. And even if there is no oil spill, further oil and gas development off Taranaki will pose serious threats to marine life,” said Cheung.
Critically for the Maui’s Dolphin which ranges from Maunganui Bluff to Whanganui in waters up to 100 metres deep, “its survival is already affected by noise from seismic surveys which travels at least 80 km, right to the coastline,” explained Prof Liz Slooten, Otago University.
Furthermore, since OMV’s last oil spill, a major feeding ground for the endangered Blue Whale has been discovered in the South Taranaki Bight. NIWA scientist Dr. Leigh Torres revealed that most Blue Whale sightings in the Bight occurred within areas open for mineral exploration and shipping traffic.
Torres pointed out, “despite apparent low-level impacts from individual sources, we must be cognisant of cumulative effects and manage these threats with a coordinated approach.”
OMV’s development drilling is expected to last 420 days, with noise from drilling, ship and helicopter traffic, discharge of drilling waste at sea (and on land), and possibly explosives.
It is just one of many current and planned petroleum and mineral programs, including OMV’s exploratory drilling in the adjacent Manaia oil field, AWE’s exploration near the Tui oil field, Shell Todd’s seismic testing and development drilling in the Maui gas field and seabed mining by Trans-Tasman Resources.
“The impacts on marine life will be like ‘death by a thousand cuts’ if we allow these activities to continue and proliferate. We urge all to write to EPA and object to OMV’s application. Public submission will close on the 29th July”, concluded Cheung.
Map (left) – Maui’s Dolphin protected zone (blue) recommended by the International Whaling Commission and areas open to mining (black). Adapted from map courtesy of L. Slooten.
Map (right) – Median beaching time from an oil spill from the Maari field, in OMV New Zealand Ltd. Maari field development drilling marine consent application impact assessment part 2. http://www.epa.govt.nz/eez/EEZ000007/EEZ000007_OMV_impact_assessment_Part_2.pdf
OMV New Zealand Ltd: Application for marine consent (EPA website). http://www.epa.govt.nz/EEZ/omv/Pages/default.aspx
Second oil spill on tanker in month (Radio NZ, 23 Nov 2010). http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/62391/second-oil-spill-on-tanker-in-month
Evidence for an unrecognised blue whale foraging ground in New Zealand, LG Torres in NZ Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, May 2013. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00288330.2013.773919
Oil exploration in Maui Dolphin Protection Zone, Liz Slooten, 3 July 2014. http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1407/S00066/oil-exploration-in-maui-dolphin-protection-zone.htm