PR push for oil and gas exploration

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

A public relations push to get New Zealanders on board with oil exploration is being signalled by the public and private sectors.

Senior figures from the oil industry and the Crown's resource management unit have stressed the need to step up community engagement at the Petroleum Summit in Wellington today.

The Government's goal of increasing oil and gas exploration has been a sensitive issue for iwi and local communities, with issues like offshore oil exploration and hydraulic fracturing sparking debate and protests.

Petroleum Exploration and Production Association chairman Chris Bush told the summit the public had sometimes been subjected to scaremongering, emotive debate and misrepresented data.

"We need to do more to put the facts out in front of people, to provide information that will not only rebut the mis-truths, but give the public confidence in the way our industry operates."

Mr Bush said public confidence was needed to fulfil the Government's exploration goals - and both the Government and industry needed to lay the groundwork for that.

"We need to take the time and explain why it is important to grow oil and gas exploration here in New Zealand, so communities have an understanding of the benefits and the future energy situation we may face without it."

Oil was a large contributor to New Zealand's energy supply and would play an ever-increasing role, Mr Bush said.

The industry contributed billions to the economy and provided more than 7000 jobs - but there was a need to highlight how environmentally stringent the industry was.

"We need to become better at explaining this to New Zealanders - at letting them know we don't just manage environmental risks, we do our best to eliminate them."

Bush said New Zealand was "woefully underexplored", with only 27 exploration wells drilled outside Taranaki and less than five in most offshore basins.

"Exploration of our basins is essential - the largest discoveries we have made to date are offshore."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment unit tasked with managing oil and gas resources and issuing exploration permits is also pushing for greater community engagement.

New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals director of petroleum Kevin Rolens said it would be looking at how it engaged with local communities to build confidence and connect with the public.

"It's becoming increasingly clear that we haven't done that well enough," he said.

"At this point in the debate it is strongly polarised and there is highly emotive content, and it is tending to generate conflict rather than clarity and understanding. It is short on facts and high on not always informed opinion."

Rolens said his unit was developing a stakeholder strategy to ensure the community received consistent messages.

"We see ourselves as providing the much-needed leadership in the public debate."

Petroleum Exploration and Production Association chief executive David Robinson said the two-day summit would not shy away from challenging topics like community and iwi engagement, oil spill response or learnings and causes of major incidents

"We want to lead the world in innovative oil and gas technologies, safe and robust processes, energy security and skills development without compromising our environment or health and safety.

"Our communities must come on the journey with us. Our panels on community engagement are an important part of making sure we are doing our best to engage with Kiwis across the country."

An opening speech to the summit by Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley was briefly interrupted this morning by protesters who handed out pamphlets and shouted slogans before security removed them.

A spokeswoman for the group, Emma Moon, said the summit included local and international companies fracking and drilling in New Zealand.

"We came to stop this gathering of polluters today for as long as we could, in solidarity with those around New Zealand who are feeling the effects of this industry on their health, their land, their water and their communities," she said.

- APNZ

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