Friday, 14 October 2011

Nationoil: Painting New Zealand Black and the Rena Saga

Nationoil: Painting New Zealand Black
 This is a collection of research, rants and facts about the response to the Rena oil spill. If you don't know what that is, or much about what happened, there's a pretty good overview here and a timeline in the Herald (which is reeling from having actual news to talk about). It is officially 'the worst maritime environmental disaster in New Zealand’s history.'

Let's start with the most ridiculous statement of the week, shall we?
John Key says that that the Rena oil spill “has nothing to do with the threat from deep sea oil exploration”
as quoted in this article.

Clearly Situation A [oil spill] has nothing to do with the threat posed by Situation B [bigger oil spills]. Let us all facepalm in unison.

And the range of reasons for nothing being done for four entire, calm days of good weather before it hits the beaches and the boat started falling apart? (Note, all these were given entirely separately)

  • The response team were getting 'training'. 
  • And being flown in from Holland. 
  • And waiting on the oil boat to arrive
  • And waiting on the insurance phone calls to finish being made.
  • And not able to cope with the "rough seas"

How was National to know that oil drilling might lead to oil spills? It's not their fault for not preparing!
"Stop blaming John Key, he didn't cause it!'
See, I actually went and read all the official reports and stuff on oil spill plans (see below). And the reviews state fairly bluntly that NZ has a completely inadequate program for oil spills. So I can actually come back at that with something better than 'National sucks'!

The reason this is a 'National sucks!' issue, not a 'oh no, an unexpected disaster NZ isn't very good at dealing with!' issue is because

  • a: National has been pushing for oil drilling and so should at least acknowledge this might be a problem in future
  • b: They claimed that there is nothing to worry about and NZ can handle spills (which would be a LOT larger than this one. This one is TINY) despite the reviews that Maritime were legally required to get saying otherwise within the last year
  • c: John Key isn't saying 'how awful, we need to make sure we are better prepared, but 'eh, this is completely unrelated to the threat of bigger oil spills from new oil drilling operations'
    • ...and 'it's not our fault, it was perfectly reasonable to wait, there was no need to hurry, we didn't have the BEST experts in the world to hand (...any experts or trained personnel would have been better than nothing, and there's supposed to be a team of ten people trained for this kind of thing that Maritime boasts about on its site) , but we have a trained competent team! but we/they were busy gathering up the best international experts! (seriously. He repeated variations on 'NZ is awesome and prepared, we were just running around like headless chickens asking the BEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD to come help, but our local guys are really competent, but no-one could touch anything without THE GREATEST EXPERTS on hand' ...this was a 'get out there as fast as possible or at least co-ordinate something quickly' situation, not a board review).

And yeah, Labour is pretty incompetent. I'm not sure how that's worse than vacuous and actively corrupt though. And Labour's better at being in Government, while National's STILL all about the Spin and Benefits. 

OTOH I prefer parties with consistent, science based policies that actually consider the environment, the poor etc, like the Greens. And everyone who starts screeching that they're crazy hippies needs to actually read their policies - they actually have them. And when i say science based - I'm a flippin' scientist. I have a postgrad degree and everything. I check references and studies. The Greens actually have legit policies (plus some that are a matter of opinion of course, based on your sociopolitical views). National and Labour and the other parties generally don't even look at the science.

Sorry. That's a slightly off-topic rant. It just really is annoying.

For a couple of heartbreaking impact statements read this article  and this one on the Greenpeace website.

Anyway, I went and had a look at the official Maritime NZ 'adequate policies' document.
These are some relevant excerpts.

‎"Did the government have the plans and equipment it needed to deal with a spill?" 
Well, considering the plans and equipment apparently consisted of a bunch of staff sent on a training course and a boat sitting in a shed...

"Based on the results of comprehensive risk assessments, New Zealand maintains an appropriate domestic capability to respond to a ‘one-in-one-hundred’ year event." and in the next sentence... "Neither effective contingency planning nor successful responses would be possible without the co-operation of regional authorities or industry, plus a wide range of organisations and individuals with specialist skills"

So who's not co-operating?

"In the event of an oil spill, the New Zealand public rightly expects that all reasonable steps will be taken to minimise the effects on the marine environment. Even small marine spills may impact on amenity values and disrupt coastal activities, so the development of an effective response strategy is of paramount importance. Nevertheless it is essential to carry out a net benefit analysis of the
response options for any spill. In some circumstances, the option of ‘doing nothing’ may be the best response option even though this may be at variance to public opinion."

Ah. So THAT'S what they were doing. Because you can't drill in marine reserves anyway, can you?

"Should a major spill occur, New Zealand’s geographic isolation means it will be some time before significant resources could be mobilised from overseas, so New Zealand must maintain an adequate domestic first response capability. "

And yet, earlier in the document it claims that a 'three tier' (i.e. spiller > regional council (ports not legally allowed to clean up local spills, btw) > Maritime NZ > run for help overseas) strategy is the most effective.

"The Act requires that the Director formally review the Strategy every five years, though it may prove necessary to issue interim updates should circumstances change. "

Really? Let's have a look at the latest review then, shall we?

"It is arguable that a Tier 1 response in New Zealand has become almost defunct;"

"New Zealand has a National Response Team (NRT). However, findings by the Review team suggest that there is insufficient attention being given to the ongoing development of this team and incorporation of lessons learned by New Zealand personnel who have attended major oil spills in Australia and the United States of America (USA) in the past few years."

"The ports do not see themselves as polluters and therefore not responsible for a Tier 1 plan or providing a pollution response. They see no reason why they should have any responsibility to respond to a spill from a ship at their berth"

"The New Zealand oil industry should be required to substantially upgrade and enhance their Tier 1 response capability relative to the risks of their operations."
But then they couldn't pass the cost on to us! And they wouldn't want to come here!

"In October and November 2010, oil company OMV New Zealand, part of the Austrian OMV Group, reported two oil spills from the Raroa floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel, which it charters from Singapore based ship management company Tanker Pacific. The vessel is permanently moored in the Maari oil field 80km
off the Taranaki Coast."
...but there's nothing to worry about.

There "exists the potential for similar oversight breakdown to those that occurred in the US and Australia"
But the giant US oil spill is SO last year.

" Adequate development of Performance Standards for critical equipment in order to respond to a leak / spill. Generic PSs are in circulation, which are not adequate, despite meeting compliance of the regulations"
But NZ has adequate back up plans according to Maritime NZ, so that's okay.
There's also an article on that in the Herald

Speaking of adequate back up plans...

"The government will do all it can to ensure that there is a stronger safety regime in place for people drilling in deep-water New Zealand." June 2010, Gerry Brownlee

"Maritime New Zealand National On Scene Commander Rob Service said efforts to stop the leak and disburse the oil were difficult due to inappropriate equipment for the rough seas." ~ in
Um. 1. There weren't any rough seas. 2. THAT'S WHY YOU MAKE SURE YOU HAVE 'APPROPRIATE' EQUIPMENT

And apparently the reason for the delay? We don't have the best experts in the world, but they are perfectly capable but they were busy mobilising the best people in the world" To paraphrase (but barely) John Key in this video interview
Turns out they flew them in from Holland. Could they find someone further away if they tried? What, were they the lowest bidders or something?

Oh, and the oil boat was busy sailing somewhere and unloading and then coming back. Except it wasn't, nobody bothered to send for it. Apparently the other, other reason nobody was allowed to start getting oil off the Rena was because it might lead to legal and insurance issues with the owners. OH NOES WE ARE STEALING THE OIL THAT IS LEAKING INTO THE OCEAN D:

And where were the local response team in the four days of calm? Getting 'training'.The training they supposedly already had according to that happy policy document.

And luckily for us, there's a cap on international liability if the company's insurance isn't enough. Because we wouldn't want to ask them to actually pay any of their own money.

Oh, and I'd avoid that area for a long time - Corexit dispersant 9500 is incredibly toxic and banned in many places overseas. 9500 can cause hemolysis (rupture of blood cells) and may also cause internal bleeding, is toxic to marine life and increases the amount of oil that submerges, as little droplets which fish then eat - and it stays in the foodchain, so not only will larger fish end up poisoned, the fish we eat will be tainted. It was banned for surface use after the BP fiasco and has been banned in the UK since 1998. Nick Smith claims the dispersants used are 'no more toxic than dishwashing liquid'. People are picking this stuff up off the beach.