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Oil spill off Taranaki, New Zealand

By February 23, 2015 No Comments

Maritime NZ confirmed today it was investigating a spill from the floating oil storage facility Raroa, the third at the site in less than five years.

The Raroa, a converted oil tanker is 250m long and 40m wide, has been operating in the Maari Field – located in the South Taranaki Bight approximately 80km off the coast – since 2008.

OMV New Zealand Ltd managing director Peter Zeilinger said a small spill occurred when oil from the FPSO Raroa was being transferred to the tanker Nectar during the offtake operation.

“The transfer hose developed a leak close to the connection point on board the Nectar and oil spilled onto its deck,” Zeilinger said.

“The majority of the spill was recovered on board the tanker and transferred to its cargo tanks but a small amount, estimated to be less than 2 barrels [300 litres], entered the sea.”


New Zealanders have been resisting oil exploration in our waters for years. Two years ago, while I was covering the Warsaw climate talks, a flotilla of small boats sailed into oil prospectors’ path. Within a week of the Peoples’ Climate March last year, the Stop Statoil Hikoi (think protest march, pilgrimage and caravan all mixed into one) arrived in Auckland. At the start of this month, on our national day, Waitangi Day, another hikoi against oil exploration arrived at Waitangi.

Maori Activist Reuben Taipari

Indigenous resistance is strong in Aotearoa. Motivated by the ethic of kaitiakitanga, tangata whenua have stood strong against oil drilling in our waters. Kaitiakitanga defines Māori’s relationship with the land: guardianship or trusteeship, not ownership.

Yet our Government keeps on pushing oil exploration – even 3000km2 within the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary off Taranaki. That’s the home of the critically endangered Maui’s dolphins – a species down to its last 55 individuals!

And what are we New Zealanders getting for it? Not much in the way of economic benefits. In fact, as Norwegian state owned oil giant Statoil is one of the main companies prospecting for oil here, we can expect Norwegians to get more from oil prospecting in Aotearoa than New Zealanders will! We can expect less than 10% of oil revenues to stay in New Zealand.

What we are getting is oil spills. Three in five years. So far, they’re small, only 300 litres. Not enough, apparently, to even fill a spa pool. But we don’t need to look far for worse examples. This is a Wild West industry running wild. Exercises in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon spill suggest that another blowout there could be plugged within two weeks.

In New Zealand, it would take us three weeks to just get the equipment there – and who knows how long much longer to plug the hole.

While Energy Minister Simon Bridges is comfortable with that, I’m not. Even if existing oil reserves weren’t enough to cook the planet three times over, oil prospecting in New Zealand waters would still be a monumentally dumb idea.

I’ve signed on with Greenpeace to tell Statoil to go home. Will you?


About David Tong

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