Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Rena forces rethink about fossil fuel

The Rena oil spill reignited debate on the safety of offshore drilling around New Zealand. Photo / NZDF
The Rena oil spill reignited debate on the safety of offshore drilling around New Zealand. Photo / NZDF

Fossil fuel exploration has been elevated to the election's biggest environmental talking point, with most parties taking a hard line against the National Party's promise to surge ahead with efforts to mine fuel reserves.

Polls indicate that the majority of the public are satisfied with how the Government responded to the Rena oil spill off Tauranga. But the disaster reignited the discussion of New Zealand's preparedness for offshore drilling at depths of up to 3000 metres.

The National Party will formally announce its environmental policy tomorrow.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said it would be a knee-jerk reaction to suspend oil exploration in the wake of the Rena grounding. He is confident law changes will ensure world best practice for future petroleum extraction, and permits will be publicly notified and scrutinised by a new Environment Protection Agency.

The Labour Party has announced a stricter policy on offshore activities, saying it would stop all deep sea drilling until it could be proved safe. It also promised an urgent review of oil spill responses, and said it would ensure polluters - such as shipping companies - paid for any clean-up.

Several other parties felt the risky pursuit of deep sea drilling detracted from the investment in renewables.

Greens co-leader Russel Norman said: "The question that confronts us is do we take more and more risk to try and get the last of the oil or do we say actually our future is somewhere else and that's where we should be throwing our money rather than putting everyone's environment at risk."

Labour and the Greens have said they would stop the mining of low-grade, carbon-heavy lignite in Southland, and the Greens have also expressed concern about opencast mining on the Denniston Plateau on the West Coast.

The other two key election issues place the heat on the agriculture sector. The finger has been pointed at farmers for degrading water quality in rivers and oceans, and for their absence from the Emissions Trading Scheme.

National felt farmers needed time to develop the tools to cut down on carbon emissions, while a Labour-led government would draw them into the scheme in 2013.

Nick Smith told the Herald: "What we're not interested in is whacking a $1 billion a year cost on farmers without them having any of the technology to reduce emissions."

New Zealand is the only OECD country without a statutory reporting act, and National believes new legislation will provide nationally consistent data on the environment, in particular the health of our fresh water. This would see rivers ranked in terms of cleanliness, and provide a platform for cleaning them up.

Labour and the Greens support a charge for large-scale water users, which could finance remediation of waterways.

- NZ Herald

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