Opinion Piece (Taranaki Daily News)

This week New Plymouth hosts the 2017 New Zealand Petroleum Conference.

Over 400 delegates from across New Zealand and around the world will be gathering at the TSB Showplace to hear from international experts, industry leaders and politicians about the future of the oil and gas industry in New Zealand. 

And there is no better place to host this year’s conference than Taranaki with its stunning landscapes, incredible hospitality, and long energy history.

In fact, the association between Taranaki and the oil and gas sector is almost as old as the history of modern New Zealand. 

Did you know that the first well in the British Empire was dug at Moturoa, on the New Plymouth foreshore in 1865! 

Since that time the oil and gas industry in Taranaki has gone from strength to strength.

Today, oil and gas accounts for 41 percent of Taranaki’s regional GDP and provides two percent of the region’s employment.

Across the county, over 11,000 people are employed directly as a result of Taranaki’s oil and gas resources. Oil is one of the country’s top ten export earners, gas is used extensively as a primary energy source, and royalties and taxes from the industry fund a wide range of essential government services and infrastructure. 

These resources have brought immense benefit to Taranaki. Oil and gas production is one of the key reason’s Taranaki has the highest GDP per capita in New Zealand, at around $80,000, compared to a national average of around $51,000.

But while the industry provides massive economic benefits, it also attracts wide-ranging and strong views in the community

On the one hand, we all use oil and gas products in almost every part of our daily lives.

On the other hand, we are all conscious of the need to protect our natural environment and respond to the enormous challenge of climate change.

These opposing views will be demonstrated outside the Conference venue, with protestors expected to descend into the city to mount action against the industry and do their very best to be disruptive.

But while we respect their right to undertake peaceful and lawful protest, undertaking media stunts and shouting in the street does not actually help contribute to the development of meaningful solutions.

And meaningful solutions are important because there is a real problem and it deserves to be discussed openly and maturely.

We actually agree with environmentalists that climate change is a major issue that requires significant action.

The world does need to reduce its carbon emissions if it wants to mitigate the worst impacts of a changing climate.

The world, however, is also facing a very real challenge of ever increasing energy demands that need to be met.

The global population is not only growing quickly, but it is becoming wealthier and more urbanised, and this driving demand for energy. 

And while this is a good thing, because increased energy demand is the result of from increasing living standards and reductions in poverty, meeting this energy demand is challenging.

This challenge requires government, energy companies, NGOs and environmentalists to work constructively together to develop solutions.

The answer is not to switch off our use of fossil fuels overnight.

To do this would have a devastating effect on the world economy – oil and gas make up half the world’s energy supply and will continue to play an important role in the world’s energy mix for decades to come.

Oil and gas is not only used to move our people and goods, but also to heat our homes, cook our food and create a huge range of essential goods from fertilizer to medical supplies to cosmetics.

We do, however, need to increase our use of renewables and think about how we can use fossil fuels more efficiently, with lower emissions.

Around the world, energy companies are changing the way they operate to respond to climate change, including investing and testing technology to capture carbon emissions and store it.

These are the sort of discussions that we will be having at this year’s Conference

 We invited Greenpeace to take part in these discussions. They declined.

And so, while they will be shouting about problems on the street, we are working to be part of the solution.

As part of this, we are committed to being open and transparent. All presentations at the Conference will be publicly available at www.petroleumconference.nz.

We know this is an emotive issue. New Zealanders are right to expect that the economic benefits of any industry are balanced with the need for environmental protection. We believe this can be done. 

Unfortunately, the debate is too often driven by the agendas of issue motivated groups, who attempt to alarm and mislead the public. To help inform the discussion we have launched a new website www.energymix.co.nz, which talks openly and honestly about New Zealand’s oil and gas industry.

We welcome a debate, but one that is based on fact. After all, this is the least the public deserve.