Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher has met with representatives from Anadarko to discuss the petroleum company’s exploratory drilling planned for the end of the month.
Mr Kircher said he met with Alan Seay and Anita Ferguson last Friday to open a dialogue with Anadarko and ensure there was a relationship between them and the council.
“They will be undertaking exploratory drilling in the next few weeks off the Otago coast and it is important that we have a good relationship with them.
“This will best allow us to ensure that all safeguards are being taken and also, that we are best able to take advantage of any opportunities that may arise for Otago and the Waitaki District.”
Anadarko New Zealand corporate affairs manager Alan Seay said the Waitaki District Council and people throughout Otago in general had been very supportive of Anadarko’s planned drilling off the coast.
Greenpeace energy campaigner Steve Abel said he hoped the council asked the hard questions, such as the actual probability of finding oil during drilling and what safety protocols were in place.
Exploratory drilling was the most dangerous stage of drilling and could potentially be devastating to Oamaru, with oil spills and gas explosions potentially very damaging to the area, Mr Abel said.
New Zealand was not prepared to handle oil spills or gas explosions, so Otago councils should be doing a cost-benefit analysis to see how beneficial drilling would actually be, he said.
Mr Kircher said ensuring safety in any drilling activity was a priority for the Waitaki District Council.
“We want to make sure that the exploration and exploitation is done safely and with a particular focus on the environment.
“I know people will have concerns and I am always willing to listen to those concerns.
“I represent our district and will do what I can to pass on those concerns and ensure they are dealt with properly.”
Mr Seay said those worried about the safety aspect of drilling for oil or natural gas had nothing to fear.
“It’s a very, very low risk, the emphasis on safety in this business is paramount.
“People can rest assured that it is something we take very seriously.”
Mr Kircher said discovery of oil or gas off the coast could change Oamaru and Otago forever.
“The potential is absolutely enormous for our region.
“Oil and gas has transformed the Taranaki region, bringing prosperity, jobs and opportunities . . . test results show that it is possible that the area being tested off Otago has much greater reserves than Taranaki.
“I was elected on the basis of growing our economy in the Waitaki District and I see this as a major possible game-changer for us all.
“Even if the production is based in Dunedin, the flow-on effects for our district will be significant.”
Mr Abel said sustainable energy was the future, and New Zealand was in a good position to lead the way by investing in biofuels and sustainable energy solutions.
Otago would largely miss out on any benefits to the economy, with the benefits of the drilling going into the hands of Anadarko and central government, Mr Abel said.
Mr Seay said plans for exploratory drilling by the Noble Bob Douglas ship were moving along but there was currently no set date for it to start drilling off the Otago coast.
The ship was currently in the Taranaki Basin, but was getting into the final stages of its work there and could be expected around the end of the month, he said.
Anadarko was confident of finding something off the Otago coast, most likely natural gas but potentially oil as well, he said.
By DAVID DE LOREAN