Protest Boat Stays Put as Drilling Begins

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By  / 3 News

US oil company Anadarko is likely to start drilling off the west coast of the North Island early this afternoon, despite a nearby protest boat refusing to budge.

Greenpeace yacht Vega is currently sitting about 200m from the Noble Bob Douglas, within the 500m exclusion zone.

Anadarko New Zealand manager Alan Seay says the Vega, co-skippered by Greenpeace executive director Bunny McDiarmid and former Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, hasn’t interrupted their plans – yet.

“We’ve had one of the vessels in that zone pretty much since we’ve been there, in and out. That’s just something we’ve got to keep an eye on,” he said on Firstline this morning.

“There’s nothing in the behaviour of that vessel that’s interrupted our programme at all, [and we] don’t expect that to change. But it’s something we’ll keep an eye on.”

Police and Maritime New Zealand are monitoring the situation. Those on board the Vega have enough supplies to last about two weeks, says Ms McDiarmid, but it’s expected the well will take 70 days to set up.

“We’re planning on staying where we are… industry best practise is that they don’t drill with boats in the area.”

Aside from running out of supplies, Ms McDiarmid says they won’t be budging unless the police and/or Maritime NZ get involved.

“It’s just an insane thing for us to be doing, taking a really unnecessary risk which puts a lot of what we really value in New Zealand at stake, when we have a huge opportunity for investing in other kinds of energy.

“We all need energy, we know that; we know we’re not going to get off oil overnight, but we certainly shouldn’t be starting new, risky ventures such as this if we don’t have to – and we don’t.”

Mr Seay says there’s no need for intervention just yet.

“The authorities are very, very aware of what’s going on. It’s no secret. If an intervention of any kind is called for, that’s a decision that they’ll make.”

Over the weekend, thousands of people gathered at beaches around the country to call for an end to deep sea oil drilling.

Mr Seay says Anadarko understands the public’s concern, and there’s been a lot of fear and emotion “whipped up around this subject”.

“We’re confident as we go into this programme, and we drill this well safely and reliably, that’ll settle a lot of people’s fears and they’ll take a more kind of informed view of things,” he says.

“I actually take a lot of comfort in Anadarko’s own track record. We’ve been doing this kind of work since 1947, and we’ve never had a serious incident. We’re very focused on conducting things in complete safety.”

But Anadarko had a 25 percent share in the drilling operation that ran the Deepwater Horizon rig, which in 2010 was the site of the largest oil spill in history. The company had denied responsibility for the spill, blaming it on majority owner BP’s “reckless decisions and actions”, reports the Wall Street Journal.

At 1520m deep, the waters the Noble Bob Douglas will be drilling are much shallower than in the Gulf of Mexico, where Deepwater Horizon was located. Mr Seay says the industry learned a lot from that disaster, and is confident there won’t be any problems.

“People can be confident that we’ve put an awful lot of work up front into prevention. We’ve got a very safe design, a safe operation and this will be carried out – I’m very confident – in complete safety.”

Greenpeace hasn’t ruled out further protests, on shore or off.

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