A GROUP of Riverton environmentalists are “relieved” Austrian oil and gas company OMV has stopped drilling off the coast of Otago… for the time being.
Late last year, the Environmental Protection Agency gave the company permission to drill up to 10 exploration and appraisal wells, along with consent for associated discharges, in the Great South Basin.
As a result of not discovering any commercial scale of oil or gas from the Tawhaki-1 exploration well 146km southeast of Balclutha, the company was preparing to plug and abandon the well, the Otago Daily Timesreported last week.
However, “OMV will provide a further update on drilling results once analysis is complete”, OMV senior vice-president, Australasia, Gabriel Selischi said.
Environmentalist Jilly McCulloch, of Riverton, said the Riverton group recently met to talk about raising public awareness in regard to “what the oil companies were doing in the Great South Basin”.
“My main concern is the lack of public awareness and education about the drilling.”
Former oil engineer, and Anglican priest, Denis Bartley, of Riverton, who had 30 years’ experience in the oil industry overseas and in New Zealand, said although OMV had stopped drilling in the Great South Basin for the time being, they “could drill more” in the future.
“It still concerns me… they may plan to come down [again].”
Mr Bartley said if an accidental spill happened from oil exploration drilling, it could be catastrophic for wildlife, the ecosystem and environment.
People may have become complacent because the Great South Basin was “drilled in the 1970s with signs of oil and gas”, he said.
Mr Bartley’s experience included working as a mechanical engineer rebuilding infrastructure onshore after the Gulf War in the early 1990s.
Among his many concerns, Mr Bartley wanted to know who would be responsible for containing and cleaning up any disaster.
“They say nothing is going to happen, but it does happen, and it will happen.
“If there was methane, it could leak into the atmosphere and explode… we haven’t got the facilities in New Zealand to contain and clean it up.”
Dolphin researcher Gemma McGrath, of Riverton, who had “a special interest in whales and dolphins for the past 20 years” said she was “relieved that it [the drilling] had not gone ahead”.
“If anything had gone wrong, such as a discharge, not only would all the whales and dolphins species in the Southern Ocean be impacted, but also the food chain and fisheries.”
Any of the migratory whales, including Southern Right Whales, Sperm Whales, Humpback Whales, beaked whales and orca, and so many other species, could have been affected, she said.
“There is already so much pressure on them” to survive… “it’s not just the noise, but any potential spills.
“A potential disaster has been averted, not just for our whales, but also for our community and eco-systems.”