Date ArticleType
12/1/2017 Member News
Guessing and Mis-Informed Opinion Has No Place In Science, Says Energy Spokesman

Guessing and mis-informed opinion has no place in science, says energy spokesman

Last updated 13:14, December 1 2017

OPINION: As National Party Energy and Resources spokesman and MP for New Plymouth, I welcome the Government's decision to grant permits for seismic survey in the Taranaki offshore basin, despite the emotive rhetoric of Greenpeace.

Having looked into the practice and controls around seismic surveying, I am convinced there is a lot of misinformation that is negatively persuading some people.

The chief executive of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Radio NZ that "Science deniers are becoming more prevalent in NZ." This has to be an alarming trend where people believe Facebook more than expert scientists.

Offshore seismic surveying is an established practice with strict requirements laid down in DOC's code of conduct, developed by scientists and overseen by the EPA. With these science-based procedures set in place, marine habitats are protected from any adverse effects of seismic surveying.

DOC has stated on its website that a variety of studies on marine seismic surveying has been reported in scientific literature over the years, but there is no definitive answer as to the effect on whales. 

Some animals/species have been reported as not reacting to the noise at all, others have been observed moving away when the vessel was many kilometres away. Humpback whales have been observed moving rapidly away from the sound source, as well as moving rapidly toward it. 

DOC say the bottom line is that reactions can be very different depending on the species, location, type of noise, and other factors. 

No deaths or strandings of marine mammals have been directly linked to seismic surveying, but naval sonar (a very different type of loud sound) has been implicated in both and is often confused with seismic in popular media. Nonetheless, a genuine concern exists about the potential effects on marine mammals, therefore DOC has developed the Code of Conduct to minimise this risk.

Looking at international comparisons, the UK, Greenland, Gulf of Mexico (USA), Canada, Brazil, and Australia, 500m is used as the zone for shutting down the airguns due to the presence of marine mammals. A number of other countries follow the UK standards and use 500m, while Ireland uses 1000m. Therefore, the New Zealand zones of 1000m with marine mammals without young and 1500m for marine mammals with young can be considered to provide a higher level of protection than found anywhere else in the world.

The context of this argument is the search, production and use of hydrocarbons in the New Zealand and worldwide economies. Natural gas remains a crucial transition fuel as we move towards a low carbon economy in the future.

 Natural gas is cited as the reason why the US has significantly reduced its emission levels, as coal-fired electricity generation is converted to gas-fired. Gas has been identified as the "transition fuel" between what has been and what is to come in a more developed renewable energy world.

While the current Government has a goal of net zero emissions by 2050, the reality is that transition will take time as technology, infrastructure and economics make it possible.

It's also important to remember that New Zealand's gross emissions are approximately 0.16 per cent of total world emissions, with New Zealand's energy profile, being both liquid fuels and electricity generation through fossil fuels being 40 per cent of that, or .064 per cent of world emissions.

If the oil and gas industry was closed down in Taranaki, affecting thousands of jobs and our regional economy, I doubt very much if New Zealand's emission footprint would change one little bit. We need to use technology and trust in science and not wreck an industry and create massive unemployment in our region. Transition to a lower carbon world is happening at a significant rate and the oil and gas industry is adapting to that.

The Government needs to make sound sensible science-based decisions around natural gas and ignore the emotional rhetoric from Greenpeace.