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What a major oil spill means for NZ

Written By: - Date published: 9:35 am, October 23rd, 2013 - 47 comments
Categories: disaster, Mining - Tags:

Greenpeace has released scientific modelling of what would happen if a major oil well blowout (like Deepwater Horizon) were to occur at either of the sites were Anadarko is preparing to start deepwater drilling. It shows the dramatic size that a spill could reach, affecting beaches and fisheries. And, remember, our response force for such an event is three dinghies.

Here’s Greenpeace’s summary video:

As I’m writing this, some oil industry spin doctor is on Breakfast is claiming that Anadarko will have the equipment present to deal with a blow-out. Just a lie. Oh, and don’t worry, because he asserts that any well drilled in deepwater here would flow at a low pressure. And there’s never been a oil spill here, well yes there has and we’re talking here about a major expansion in the most dangerous type of drilling.

Also worth remembering: National and these foreign companies are putting our environment at risk to get hold of oil – a major cause of climate change.


47 comments on “What a major oil spill means for NZ”

  1. BM 1

    Has Cunliffe ruled out off shore drilling?,had a quick google and couldn’t find anything.

    Or is it only the Greens banging the no oil drilling drum

  2. Melb 2

    Did they also model the most likely scenario – you know, where nothing goes wrong and the state of our country is improved?

    • Enough is Enough 2.1

      State of Our Country improved.


      The Oil will be exported by foreign owned corporates or the Chinese. Follow the money. It won’t be coming to you r any other kiwi.

      What benefit do we get out of this other than some work for the clean up crew who have to mop up the environmental disaster

    • richard 2.2

      Try finding stuff out for yourself.

      “We predicted the trajectory of a thousand oil spill scenarios at two sites in New Zealand using ten years of global archives of marine weather data. We are basically answering a “what if” question. What if a catastrophic blowout scenario occurred at these deep-sea drill sites?” – Laurent Lebreton, Dumpark Ocean Modeller


    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 2.3

      Meanwhile, back on Earth, Oil Spill Eater International Corporation boasts of responding to over 23,600 oil spills, both land and marine based. That’s just one company.

      After the Deep Water Horizons “spill”, Amy Myers Jaffe, associate director of the Rice University energy program, said “We need the oil…the industry will have to improve and regulators will have to adjust, but the public will have to deal with the risk of drilling in deep waters or get out of their cars.”

      There Is No Alternative. I heard that somewhere before but I can’t quite place it.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.4

      NZ won’t be any better off. A few foreign corporations will be but that’s it. NZ will actually be worse off as we will no longer have our resources.

      • Rick Rowling 2.4.1

        “New Zealand won’t be any better off.” Wait, what? Are there no royalties to the New Zealand Government?

        Inevitably, there will be a next centre-left government.

        What extra social services could that government provide with the royalties and taxes from oil exports?

        Is the value of those services greater or less than the cost of pollution and risk of spill?

        • Francis

          Besides the 30% tax on profits, which every other company trading in New Zealand has to pay, no. At least that’s how I understand it…

  3. King Kong 3

    Truly chilling. It reminds me of some work that was done around the potential outcomes of an Alien attack on NZ.

    Ashburton and Timaru would be completely wiped out with photon torpido strikes whilst the population of Auckland and Hamilton would have to endure endless anal probing.

    The work was commissioned by WANC (world alien negation committee) they are an anti-alien charity though they have been known to tell horrendous lies in order to fight their cause.

    • fender 3.1

      Hope you have laid a complaint over having to endure the anal probing despite the invasion not arriving, or are you having too much fun to bother complaining…

    • McFlock 3.2

      The photon torpedo that hit the Gulf Coast was pretty shitty. Not to mention the Exxon Valdez alien strike – because drilling is just half the equation, you then have to transport it. And we couldn’t even handle a teeny tiny Jetson space buggy called the Rena.

  4. Wayne 4

    Most drilling off Taranaki occurs at 100 to 150 metres water depth, typically 30 to 90 km offshore. So the weather there will be the same as 150 km out (the site of the Anadarko well, which is in 1500 metres of water). So the risk of the weather and sea state is the same for both types of wells.

    And I imagine a leak from either type of well will have the same consequences until it is stopped

    The issue is whether there is an aspect of the technology of a 1500 metre well which is fundamentally different and riskier than a 120 metre well. As a general rule 120 metre wells are fixed to the seabed on pylons whereas deep wells are ship rigs anchored at several points (as far as I understand).

    Now I know Greenpeace does not like the oil industry generally, but they seem not to have seriously protested about the 120 metre depth wells. So they either think the risk is way less, or alternatively they know they lost the battle about 120 metre wells a long time ago.

    And David Cunliffe is never going to oppose drilling in water that is less than 300 metres.

    I thought the industry guy on RNZ did a pretty good job, but it would be good to know whether there really is more risk with 1500 metre water depth as opposed to 120 metre water depth.

    • fender 4.1

      “I thought the industry guy on RNZ did a pretty good job, but it would be good to know whether there really is more risk with 1500 metre water depth as opposed to 120 metre water depth.”

      He sounded defensive, like he was making it up as he went along and a little out of his depth.

      But yeah lets just get on with it and worry about “whether there really is more risk” later./sarc

    • Bill 4.2

      You seem to be quite serious in suggesting that deep water and relatively shallow water is much of a muchness there Wayne. Good to know then, that as I look out over the gentle lappings in this 14m deep harbour, that the same little wavelets are extending all the way out to 90 odd km off the coast. Also exciting to know that should I have to get to the bottom of this harbour to sort out some shit, then it’s just like as if I was sorting out the same shit in 1500m of water!

      • Wayne 4.2.1


        As should have been obvious to you, I was comparing the Anadarko well in Taranaki, which is to be 150km out compared with the existing offshore wells off Taranaki, which are up to 90 km out. So the weather and waves will be essentially be the same for both types of wells.

        The Greepeace map for the west coast of the NI is obviously related to the Anadarko well to be drilled off Taranaki.

        The point about ROV’s and divers is clearly relevant (which I did appreciate since I do dive). But is the technology such that a pipe that has broken can be effectively capped using ROV’s as opposed to free divers. For instance would a diver work close to a free flowing uncapped well in any event.

        • McFlock

          30-90km. Vs 150km. Twice the distance as many of the platforms. Still 1.6 times farther than the 90km platform.

          But is the technology such that a pipe that has broken can be effectively capped using ROV’s as opposed to free divers.

          if you don’t know (and it sure as shit wasn’t two years ago when DwH killed 11 workers and poisoned the Gulf), why the fuck would you take it on faith?

          • Wayne


            That is essentially my question, are there any technological changes that have changed the situation since the DwH disaster three years ago (April 2010).

            We do need hard data on this, and the industry needs to be quite specific on the resources they have, the changes they have made in deep drilling, etc, if they are to show people there have been changes that reduce the risk.

            As for the interview this morning, the info on the nature of the oil and gas in the Taranaki basin, the pressure levels compared to the Gulf, and the fact that the oil has to be pumped, seem all quite relevant to assessing the risk.

            I recall the underwater pictures of DwH, and the oil was literally blasting out under what was obviously huge pressure, and therefore difficult to cap. But they eventually did cap it, even before the relief wells had been completed, though the relief wells were part of the final fix.

            • lprent

              …and the oil was literally blasting out under what was obviously huge pressure, and therefore difficult to cap

              Huh? Whatever! Wellheads *must* be at high pressure.

              There is no way that they can be extracting oil unless it either has existing high pressure from gas components, or they have been inserting high pressure elsewhere. In the latter case it is done under quite a lot of pressure to prevent intermixing with whatever they’re pumping in (usually seawater under water for underwater). The only difference between the two is that stopping to pump inwards will cause the flow to diminish over a period of weeks.

              However virtually all new finds are under considerable existing pressure. It appears to to be part of the requirement to form and retain oil that they generate gas which pressurises the liquid.

              And remember we’re talking about extracting a glutinous liquid from pores in rock. We’re *not* talking about a pool of liquid waiting to be pumped, although I see that some of a technological fools on kiwiblog obviously think that way… The way that they extract oil is to have pressure.

              But as I said earlier – just set the maximum costs of a cleanup, and get the oil companies to insure against that risk. That has the advantage of not throwing the risk on us. The problem is that the oil industry won’t want to do it. They’re quite aware that they can’t get insurance at a level that ensures they will have a profit. THey’d prefer for us to carry the can.

              • Pascal's bookie

                That has the advantage of not throwing the risk on us. The problem is that the oil industry won’t want to do it.

                That’s pretty much my view too.

                At the moment all we are gearing from the industry and its boosters are that, oh the risks are small, and it ain’t no thing and we have the technology and the regulations will be in place and blah blah blah.

                All of those things, I’d bet, were said before every major spill, or mine collapse, or other disaster And it’s good that they are said. But it’s all just words really. With good intent, I’m sure, but words all the same.

                But there is another risk that doesn’t get talked about. And it’s a certainty. That’s the risk that if a spill happens, the spiller will try and minimise their costs. We need to mitigate that risk befiore the spill happens.

                I’m sure that when anadarko say, now, that of course they will do everything they can to clean up, and pay for damages and all the rest of it, that they mean it.

                But that doesn’t actually mean that when faced with a major disaster they won’t do what every damn company has done before.

              • Draco T Bastard


                But that’s all businesses. None of them will pay for the cleanup after them.

            • McFlock

              The question is not just technological changes in theory, but how often those new technologies have been tested, and how their testing related to actual use in an emergency.

              Then juxtapose that against our reaction to the Rena, a small-scale, shallow, and not uncommon event.

              At what point would the risk to our ecosystems, our $15billion tourism indutry, and our $1billion fishing industry be acceptably balanced by experimental or theoretical technology, in your opinion?

            • Tat Loo

              We do need hard data on this, and the industry needs to be quite specific on the resources they have, the changes they have made in deep drilling, etc, if they are to show people there have been changes that reduce the risk.

              Sorry Wayne but it looks to me as if major deep sea well failures are highly unpredictable using standard statistical models of “risk”. Nassem Taleb’s characterisation of “fat tailed distributions” probably applies, where using standard risk models grossly underestimates both the likelihood of problems and their severity.

              What we are looking at here is not “risk” it is multiple issues of “uncertainty” which are extremely difficult to model and manage.

              Further, many of the failures leading to the Deep Water Horizon disaster were failures of management and organisational culture. Cutting a corner on standard operating procedures here to save $500K, cutting another corner on standard operating pricedures over there to save $500K, etc.

              Demonstrating that those factors have changed will be very difficult.

              • SpaceMonkey

                Hmm… perhaps we need apply the “legal-high” test? If the oil industry can prove that it’s safe to drill at 1,500 metres then they can do business.

    • McFlock 4.3

      so with twice the distance and ten times the depth, on Pacific side rather than the Tasman, the weather and sea conditions will be “the same”.

      Well, now we know you know nothing.

      And dealing with an issue at the sea floor is much easier at 100m than 1500m – you can use divers, whereas at 1500m you’re restricted to ROVs and a few submersibles. The was the problem with DwH – it was so deep that they were making it up as they went along. And these ones are even deeper.

    • lprent 4.4

      …but it would be good to know whether there really is more risk with 1500 metre water depth as opposed to 120 metre water depth.

      That is easy. The exterior pressure difference is immense


      12m = 2.26 kgf/cm2
      120m = 13.33 kgf/cm2
      1500m = 154.78 kgf/cm2 = ~150 atmospheres

      Start from considering the implications of that. Not to mention the pressure that has to be inside the wellhead to push a column of oil/gas up 1500m. The two scenarios simply aren’t comparable.

      If they’re sending electronics down with bots and teleoperated devices (because there is no way to have working humans there), then they either pressurize to similar levels with the interesting and largely untested effects on the components, or they have to figure out how to prevent an implosion.

      The level of precision engineering required to assemble and operate systems at those kinds of pressures over decades is so close to the bounds of our current possible that it should all be regarded as being experimental.

      But there is an easy way to find out. There is an industry dedicated to assessing risk. Require that the oil industry players who want to do this to take out a policy to indemnify against the worst possible spill scenario. Let them convince the insurance market. Why in the hell should the public and taxpayers carry the risk?

    • vto 4.5

      Wayne says this: “… but it would be good to know whether there really is more risk with 1500 metre water depth as opposed to 120 metre water depth.”

      For fucks sake that is gobsmacking Wayne.

      Here you are part of a government permitting this to happen and you don’t even know the risk?

      What the hell goes through the minds of you lot?

      Plus, lprent said above that they should carry an insurance policy to cover this risk. Let them convince the insurance market and let the drillers carry the risk. Why should the taxpayer carry the risk? Why wayne?

      • Wayne 4.5.1


        I am not actually part of the govt. But I do think the industry needs to be more upfront about the risk issues, and what they have done to mitigate them.

        But it is correct that I think Greenpeace is scaremongering a bit. However, if that is what it takes to get more openess on the part of the industry, fair enough,

        I guess what I want to see is a properly informed debate, as indeed does Shane Jones. These decisions should be made in a way the public can see there has been proper understanding of the risks. You could not say that at present.

        Fair point about insurance. Presumably the higher the cover, the lower the premium for the extreme end of the risk, given the rarity of such an event.

        The industry would argue that it is appropriate that the govt also bears some of the risk, given that the govt also profits from the exploitation of the resource. These are not wholly privatised resources. Oil is owned by the Crown, who give licenses in return for royalties.

        • Pascal's bookie

          The govt owns the resource. That’s why it gets a return. The Co’s are responsible for getting it out and get a hefty whack of the profits, and are the ones who will be, at times, incentivised to take risks.

          So no. They bear the costs. We need to incentivise a safety culture, and the best way to do that is to make fucking up really expensive, and hard to wriggle out of in court. Watch what BP is doing in the US about the Gulf costs now, and learn from that as well as from the blowout itself.

          • Tat Loo

            You’ve only described one ownership model. The well operator does not have to be a private company, or solely a private company.

  5. BM 5

    BP’s drilling at 3000 meters in the gulf of Mexico, this 1500 meters is the like the shallow end of the pool.

    Nothing to worry about.

    • McFlock 5.1

      says the cheerleader for the crowd who couldn’t even respond to the Rena in the few days of good weather after the grounding.

    • felix 5.2

      “BP’s drilling at 3000 meters in the gulf of Mexico, this 1500 meters is the like the shallow end of the pool.

      Nothing to worry about.”

      Deepwater Horizon was in 1500 meters of water, moran.

  6. “Most drilling off Taranaki occurs at 100 to 150 metres water depth, typically 30 to 90 km offshore. So the weather there will be the same as 150 km out (the site of the Anadarko well, which is in 1500 metres of water). So the risk of the weather and sea state is the same for both types of wells.”

    Wayne I don’t understand how anyone could even think that was true let alone post it on a blog. A real WTF moment for me. Come on – do you really believe this?

    • Tat Loo 6.1

      I don’t think that Wayne has been well briefed.

    • Wayne 6.2


      Have a re-look at what I wrote. We are essentially dealing with either 150 k (Anadarko) out into the Tasman Sea or 90 k (existing platforms) out into the Tasman Sea. In both cases they are in the offshore space so far as weather and sea conditions are concerned.

      The Tasman Sea mostly has westerly conditions, the “fetch” for waves is from Australia. That means sea conditions are pretty much the same 150 k out or 90 k out from the New Zealand west coast. In fact shallowing water can result in steeper shorter waves.

      You must know why the west coast is considered an unsheltered coast as opposed to the east coast.

      And I have studied NZ weather as part of aviation studies, and have both the PPL and CPL metrology papers, where there is an large amount of study in weather patterns around New Zealand. Though of course this does not cover wave patterns of oceans.

      • McFlock 6.2.1

        In both cases they are in the offshore space so far as weather and sea conditions are concerned.

        Except one’s off a shelf, and the other isn’t.

        Though of course this does not cover wave patterns of oceans.

        So you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  7. Crunchtime 7

    Gareth Hughes fronted on NatRad’s morning report this morning and made some good point. Yes there is capping equipment but it’s half a world away. The agreement to drill still leaves it up to the maritime authority to clean up any spill – who couldn’t cope with the comparatively tiny Rena disaster.

    But then I think his summary hurt his point: he re-stated the Greens position that we should not be drilling AT ALL and should instead be investing in renewable energy.

    If you are trying to make good points about all the things that are wrong with this deepwater drilling, it’s a good idea to not take a position on whether any drilling at all should be happening in the first place.

    Personally, I certainly agree that more resources should be going into developing renewable energy than drilling for oil and mining for coal.

    But I think it’s a good idea to take a sensible pragmatic position on this. This includes:
    – making sure the taxpayer gets a SUBSTANTIAL return on any investment – in other words a proper share of the income generated from any oil (or other precious resource) found
    – ensure REAL SAFETY procedures are put in place and equipment and expertise is actually in the country when things like this are happening.

    If these strict requirements mean the oil companies stop drilling and piss off, then obviously it shouldn’t have been happening in the first place. But that should be the measure. Taking a position that there should be NO DRILLING at all actually hurts this process.

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