Monday, May 27, 2013

Miners, if you can't afford safety then get out

Miners, if you can't afford safety then get out 

OPINION: Our South Island communities are being courted and consulted a little more vigorously than usual, thanks to an opportunity for the big mining companies to explore our ocean floors for signs of gas and oil.
These companies have known for a long time that there is potential for extraction in a number of offshore sites but, for one reason or another, the numbers simply haven't stacked up or the political environment has not been conducive. But things are different now and it seems the best opportunity to make some money is now.
It is not a fait accompli by any stretch of the imagination and in the current environment the best progress is going to be made when all community stakeholders are on board.
This is a big ask, as we saw this week when Conservation Minister Nick Smith announced Bathurst could proceed with opencast mining on the conservation estate.
The whole thing may yet be derailed by legal proceedings but Bathurst believes it can run a viable operation, with all the best practice initiatives in place, and still contribute $22 million to local conservation projects.
I fully understand that where all the factors are well known, associated management challenges are adequately mitigated and the safety issues are implemented and monitored well, then a reliable operation can be run.
This is particularly true of land-based mining.
It is important to note the economic viability of any mining needs to take all of these factors into consideration.
Cost savings when it comes to safety are not an option. A Rolls-Royce operation, which is what we deserve and what we should demand, comes at a cost and that will be the real leveller.
If the figures don't stack up: that is, you can't afford the safety, then get out of town.
The game is a little different in the open sea.
Anadarko is one of the companies that may be drilling in the Great South Basin and it has been actively engaging with iwi and many other community stakeholders.
Not surprisingly, they are talking about the innocuous impact of their exploration technology, and how friendly they are to whales and other charismatic mega-fauna.
All sorts of discussions are being had about how the company can make a meaningful contribution to the community, and ensure an enduring and productive long-term relationship.
Excuse my cynicism but these types of negotiations struggle to pass my sincerity test. That is not to say all multinationals with a reputation for natural resource exploitation should be tossed to the side but, for me, the hurdle is pretty high.
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Yesterday, I met with veteran activist Mike Smith and a photojournalist from the United States who was on the ground, and in the air, during the weeks following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
His view was that the incident, and the subsequent cleanup, was less than transparent and quite convoluted with deliberate misinformation and a poorly co-ordinated operation.
They particularly pointed out that Anadarko, one of the companies possibly operating off the South Island coastline, has been implicated in the Gulf of Mexico spill. Anadarko was a 25 per cent partner in the BP and Haliburton-led operation, although it claims it was only a financial partner.
Others argue that Anadarko was involved in critical decision-making.
It is certainly on the end of legal proceedings in the US that accuse it of not fully declaring how much it knew about the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the impact it would have on the value of the company.
My personal concern with any deep-sea drilling here is the ability to mitigate against any disaster.
I do not oppose the principle of mineral or fossil-fuel extraction but what if it all goes to crap?
It certainly did in the Gulf of Mexico and the means to tidy up the mess were far from adequate or effective.
The primary intervention was the use of something called Corexit, a dispersant that coagulates the spilt oil, which then disappears below the surface of the ocean.
Britain banned the use of Corexit dispersants in 1998 and many expert scientists believe it is more harmful than the oil itself.
A survey of the health impacts of Corexit on cleanup workers showed eye, nose and throat irritation, respiratory problems, blood in urine, rectal bleeding, seizures, nausea and violent vomiting, skin irritation, burning and lesions, short-term memory loss, liver and kidney damage, central nervous system damage, hypertension and miscarriages.
In New Zealand, the first line of defence, if we were to experience a significant oil spill, would be to use Corexit.
It was most recently used following the Rena crisis off Tauranga two years ago.
If that is as good as it gets, then it isn't good enough.

(for those in the US, mining in New Zealand is the same as what we refer to as drilling for oil)


  1. Tahu Potiki has been a major influence in the Māori language revitalisation initiatives of South Island tribe Ngāi Tahu over the past two decades and recently sat on the board of the Māori broadcasting funding agency, Te Māngai Pāho. Tahu and his whānau run a business from the Otago Peninsula and he is involved in a number of community organisations and Māori development projects.

    He is currently the Chair of Te Rūnanga o Otakou in the Otago region and is a former Chief Executive of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

  2. Has the BPslick blog got a Facebook page? It is one of the best ways to share updates with many people these days...

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