Drilling for oil and gas off the Canterbury coast is back on the horizon, Gabrielle Stuart reports.

The risk of a spill, the danger to local endangered species and the lack of public consultation: They were just some of the 46 points the city council raised in a submission against the Government's oil and gas block offer last year.

In spite of that, the Government went ahead with the block offer anyway.

As consultation opens on a similar offer this year, some city councillors are now questioning if the Government will listen to what they say.

The latest offer would open a 210,884 sq km area of ocean below Banks Peninsula for commercial oil and gas exploration tenders next year.


Oil Free Otautahi spokeswoman Bridget White said it had become an issue of democracy.

"I think it is absolutely astonishing that they have the guts to do it again after the strong opposition to it from the Christchurch City Council last time," she said.

Last week, Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges did not answer questions from The Star about how much weight he would give to the city council's submission when making his decision.

He said only that he would consult with them to "identify areas of significance or sensitivity."

He also did not answer questions about what advice he had received about the risk of a spill.

However, he said all bids received would be put through an involved assessment process, checking their systems, finances and compliance history.

"Exploration in this area is not new and the Canterbury and Great South Basins have seen exploration activity since the early 1970s," he said.

Many of the city councillors were worried regions like Canterbury would take on all the risk and earn very little reward if companies were allowed to drill.


But Petroleum Exploration and Production Association NZ chief executive Cameron Madgwick said there would be benefits for the region.

Taking Taranaki as an example, he said oil and gas made up 41 per cent of its gross domestic product, which was the highest GDP per capita in the country - $80,297 per person in value, compared with $53,054 per person in Canterbury.

Counting businesses which indirectly serviced the industry, he estimated it had created 11,000 jobs.

Finding a large gas reserve off Canterbury could also service the region, he said, and could potentially have positive environmental impacts if it replaced coal burning.

•About 3700 New Zealanders are employed in the oil and gas industry - and more in industries supporting it

•The Government collects tax and royalties from the industry - the forecast royalty take this year is $228 million

•Being able to draw on local supplies of oil and gas could drop the price and protect, to some extent, from shortages or big price hikes in the future

PEPANZ chief executive Cameron Madgwick said after discovering a site, the process of permitting and developing it ready to drill could take up to 10 years, so the immediate after effects of the Canterbury earthquake would be long over.

The risk of an earthquake was something the equipment was built to withstand, as it was designed to handle movement from things like the ocean currents, he said.

University of Auckland engineering science lecturer David Dempsey said drilling posed a lot less risk to stability than things like fracking.

"That is not to say it's not possible. Because if you are drilling across a fault, if you were quite unfortunate, you could trigger something. But it is very unlikely," he said.

What the mayor and city councillors think

Lianne Dalziel:

The council has collectively adopted a position in opposition to these permits being issued due to the significant consequences of an oil spill.

Vicki Buck: Totally against it and I expect the city council will oppose it. The risks are so high and the rewards are actually zero to the region. You risk massive environment damage - this is very close to a marine mammal sanctuary.

Andrew Turner: I'm opposed to drilling activity in the marine sanctuaries, which is particularly relevant to waters off my ward of Banks Peninsula.

Ali Jones: I don't support anything that doesn't have a robust risk management plan in place. From what I have heard in council, it sounds like we would not be able to manage a spill. So I would be open to listening, but only if there is something new in this case.

David East: I voted to support the Government's decision last year. But I may have a slightly different opinion this year. I'm ambivalent this year. With the price of oil at the moment and the advancements we're seeing in things like storage, it's questionable whether we will actually need it in the near future.

Glenn Livingstone: The risk is too high in terms of a potential catastrophe. And also, is it a future we want to work towards? We want to work towards a more sustainable future. It comes back to that whole cost-benefit ratio.

Jamie Gough: I support initiatives which help grow our local economy. However, I am yet to be convinced that the benefits would necessarily markedly outweigh the risks. It's not to say that benefits are non-existent - because that simply isn't true. However, those in the decision-making position will clearly need to analyse the risk versus reward as our national brand could ultimately be what's at stake if they get it wrong.

Jimmy Chen: Why tourists come to New Zealand is because we have environmental assets. They come to see our natural environment, agricultural, horticultural and seashore assets. If this is damaged, it will damage the New Zealand economy. My personal view is to go against the Government proposal.

Paul Lonsdale: We have to look to the future and the risks to our marine life and pristine shorelines are too great. The future of energy is not in petroleum and - noting that transportation uses 64 per cent of all oil produced - with the rapid development of better performance electric cars and driverless cars, the need to own a car may be much like needing to own a horse in the future.

Pauline Cotter: We don't really know what the benefits to our local area, or to New Zealand, are going to be when the oil prices are so low and the profits would probably go overseas anyway. So it seems we are putting ourselves at a high risk for little gain. We've spoken as a council and that's all we can do, so it's up to the people now.

Phil Clearwater: I'm open to hearing the other arguments but, overall, I think the concept of drilling for oil right adjacent to our shores makes a nonsense of the need to reduce our carbon emissions to address the serious consequence of climate change. I think it's unacceptable really.

Raf Manji: I don't think it's a very good idea and I'm quite surprised it's coming from a Government which is starting to promote electric vehicles. The fact they're out there promoting a technology we don't really want to be investing in is not economically a smart idea or, environmentally, something we want to be doing in Canterbury, especially with seismic issues.

Tim Scandrett: Unless we've got the capability in this country to fix a leak or an accident, then we shouldn't be touching it. We have the hector's dolphins in that area - it wouldn't take much to alter their entire existence. I can see the economic benefit of it, but I don't want it to happen before there are preventative measures in place if there is a disaster.

Yani Johanson: This is a huge gamble, it's not a question of if something goes wrong, it's a question of when. In effect, it is basically selling off our environmental assets to try and make money and I feel that our oceans and coasts are incredibly precious and I can't see any benefit for it. Even the process itself can be disruptive to the sea life, so why would you do that?