22 Oct 2014

Oil industry meets in New Plymouth

8:51 pm on 22 October 2014

The oil and gas industry has been talking up its environmental credentials at a conference in New Plymouth this week, while outside protesters try to get their message across.

Protestors outside the oil and gas industry conference in New Plymouth.

Protestors outside the oil and gas industry conference in New Plymouth. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Minimising the impact of seismic surveying on marine mammals and the lessons learned from exploration in environmentally sensitive areas were just a few of the topics up for discussion.

But outside it has been a different story, with protesters calling for an end to the fossil fuels industry.

Climate Justice Taranaki spokesperson Urs Signer said the cause was straightforward: all exploration must stop.

"Our message is that we need a really a system change to reduce energy use and avert catastrophic climate change because it is completely irresponsible for these dirty companies to keep extracting fossil fuels so the message to the companies meeting at this oil and gas expo is to stop the drilling and keep fossil fuels in the ground."

Mr Signer said the 5000 oil and gas workers employed in Taranaki should turn their skills to renewable energy sources.

"A lot of the people who work in the industry have amazing skills and those skills could be put to great use in the renewable energy sector which is where we need to be heading as well as reducing our energy consumption."

Environmental focus

Conference organiser David Murphy said the focus of this year's event was environmental responsibility and health and safety awareness.

"We really respect their right to protest and we understand that people have concerns but we've got a conference programme that really focuses on the environmental implications and health and safety concerns of the oil and gas industry.

"We've brought across people from Australia who've dealt with the emerging oil and gas industry over there and they are talking about transferring the very strict regulations that are in place in Australia and applying them to the sensitive environments of New Zealand."

About 75 business are exhibiting at the expo, companies from including Australia, China, Singapore and Malaysia.

A similar number of people have paid $800 to attend the two-day conference.

Opening speaker marine biologist and oceanographer, Lucy Muir, talked about her work in the tough regulatory environment in Australia.

Ms Muir, who is an environmental manager with consultants S2V, said new rules coming in here would result in more rigorous auditing of environmental protection plans.

"It's not enough to say "oh, well I know this guy down the road who's got some boom we can use'. You have to demonstrate that that 100m of boom is appropriate for where you're drilling, and if it's not enough, where will you get more from, how will you keep your response going through the full blow out period."

Public consultation

Ms Muir said a huge part of here job in Australia was encouraging oil and gas companies to consult with the public effectively.

Another presenter, Portuguese marine acoustic scientist Sofia Patricio, has been investigating marine seismic survey technologies.

She believes with the right systems in place it is possible to prevent serious harm to marine mammals.

"As soon as all mitigation factors are in place, marine mammal observers together with passive acoustic methods, there is a very good chance or likelihood that the marine mammals will not be affected."

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