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November 25, 2011

Drilling through the lies

Blogpost by Simon Boxer

Brazil’s first taste of a deepwater oil drilling blowout this week has demonstrated one thing above all else – just like you can’t trust the nuclear industry neither can you trust the word of big oil.
Petrobras, the Brazilian oil company intending to drill for oil in up to 3100 metres of water off New Zealand’s East Cape, is the part-owner of the affected oil field northeast of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the oil blowout has occurred.
On the 8th November a deepwater drilling rig (SEDCO 706) being operated by US oil giant Chevron was drilling an appraisal oil well in 1,150 metres water depth. It appears that the drilling operation over pressurised the well and fractured the surrounding rock which opened up cracks in the sea floor that oil started to flow through into the Atlantic ocean.
But the oil industry did not announce to the public that they had caused a blowout – they kept silent. It wasn’t until the non-governmental organisation, SkyTruth revealed on the 10thNovember that they could see a 35 mile oil slick on the ocean surface, that the story started to come out.
But rather than own up to their actions, Chevron, initially claimed that the spill was a natural event! It took a strong statement by the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to pressure the industry to come clean. Chevron stuck to their ‘it’s a natural seep’ line until November 14th until the evidence was overwhelming that this was a misleading claim.
Now Chevron is under pressure to come clean about the real quantity of oil being released by the blowout. The oil company has been saying that the amount of oil leaking is between 27 – 45 tonnes of oil each day – but SkyTruth has calculated that it is in fact 10 times higher at around 512 tonnes each day based on the size of the surface oil slick. That’s potentially over 2,000 tonnes of oil leaked since the 8th November – and we know what only 350 tonnes of oil looks like thanks to the Rena disaster here. It's devastating and, once the oil is in the water, the damage is done. Recent estimates reveal up to 20,000 seabirds may have been killed by the toxic Rena oil spill in the Bay of Plenty.
Like BP did with the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico (also in deep water at about 1500m), Chevron is now trying to fill the well with cement - but so far the oil continues to leak from the cracks in the ocean floor.
This is the reality that New Zealand is facing thanks to the National Government’s obsession with opening up deepwater oil drilling no matter what the risks. In fact even as oil was washing up on the Bay of Plenty coast from the Rena, a new deepwater seismic survey ship arrived in Taranaki to survey a huge area off the Raglan coast with water depths upto 1,800 metres. The company that is planning to drill in this area is Texan oil giant Anadarko – a part owner of the Deepwater Horizon, the rig which exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico last year, spilling 660,000 tonnes of oil. Anadarko have stated that they expect to start deepwater drilling off Raglan and Canterbury this time next year.
Unless public pressure brings the Government’s deepwater oil drilling plans to a halt then this could very well be the last summer New Zealanders can enjoy their pristine beaches and marine environment before big oil leaves its disastrous calling card in our backyard.
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