Manu Caddie, a Gisborne District Councilor in New Zealand, has renewed his call for the government to suspend the East Coast exploration permit for Brazilian state-controlled oil and gas multinational Petrobras following a lethal explosion at a Petrobras refinery in Argentina, which left an employee dead and another gravely wounded.
The dead worker was identified as Adrian Valente, 44, while Miguel Graciano, 42 years, was taken to a hospital. Apparently the structure of the refinery was not affected by the explosion.
“The explosion occurred in the room in which two workers were resting. There was some as-of-yet undetermined condensation of gas and the explosion that destroyed the room occurred due to some kind of spark,” said Eduardo Conghos, the area’s environmental authority.
Caddie says the idea that Petrobras has had a clean safety record for ten years is a complete myth. He states that the death of this Petrobras employee and disfigurement of his colleague follow a similar explosion at another Petrobras refinery in Argentina three years ago.
He also mentioned a major incident in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year as the company prepared to start the first new extraction since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Moreover he talked about the assassination two years ago of a fisherman and ongoing intimidation of his colleagues who have been protesting against a Petrobras pipeline in Guanabara Bay, Brazil.
“This company is not a model corporate citizen and the Minister of Energy and Resources should not be allowing it to operate in New Zealand waters,” says Mr Caddie.
Government officials in Argentina ordered Petrobras to close down the refinery in Argentina after the explosion. The refinery, located in the southern port city of Bahía Blanca, has a capacity of 31,000 barrels per day. The blast happened in a resting area when workers turned on the lights after finishing their shift.
The plant accounts for about five percent of Argentina’s total refining capacity of 627,000 BPD. The plant needs two days to gradually shut down.
Mr Caddie says the statement issued by Petrobras assuring investors that refining operations had not been affected by the explosion was another example of how little regard the company has for people over profit.
Representatives from Greenpeace New Zealand, and East Coast iwi te Whanau-a-Apanui, have started a tour of the Far North on August 1. They intend to forge alliances with iwi, commercial and recreational fishing groups, tourism bodies, environment groups, and community organizations, to oppose the Government’s plans to bring Gulf of Mexico-style deep sea drilling to the region.
Greenpeace will be represented by Mike Smith, and te Whanau-a-Apanui by Dayle Takitimu.
A statement was issued that no exploration permits had been issued in any of the dozen Northland and Reinga blocks, which stretch over 150,000 square kilometers of ocean from Muriwai beach, west of Auckland, to Cape Reinga, and out to the far boundary of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone, 200 miles out to sea. Most of the proposed oil drilling area is in extreme deep water, which exceeds depths of one kiloliters.
The Ministry of Economic Development has said little as to why it has not issued any drilling permits, but Smith believes that Greenpeace and te Whanau-a-Apanui’s strong and united fight against Petrobras, and its oil survey off the East Cape, has made deep sea oil drilling too contentious for an election year.
“We believe it was due to community and public pressure that the Government has not issued permits and the industry’s interest has cooled.
“However we must remain vigilant to ensure that if Northland’s waters come back on the table for oil drilling after the election – we are ready to stop it,” says Smith.
“BP’s Deepwater Horizon was operating in 1500 meters of water. Parts of the Northland and Reinga blocks are as deep as 1800 meters and two kilometers deep respectively. After the explosion on board the Deepwater Horizon, millions of barrels of oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico. That did enormous, long-lasting damage to livelihoods, communities, and the Gulf environment. It would be insane to risk the same happening to the Hokianga, Spirits Bay, the Kaipara, or quite possibly, all three,” says Takitimu.
“The burning of fossil fuels like oil is bringing us all closer to the point at which we trigger a state of runaway climate change.
“Clean energy, and the building of a clean economy, is vital if humans are to prosper and survive,” Takitimu says.
Last year, US$ 211 billion was invested in renewables around the world – more than was invested in fossil fuels.
“Aotearoa is running out of time to become a part of the global clean energy revolution. The Government must drop its fossil fuels subsidies and start giving this country’s cleantech sector the encouragement it needs,” Smith says.