Tensions over a controversial plan to drill for gas in Great Southern Basin have been eased today after multinational oil company Shell reassured Dunedin residents that, in the event of a catastrophic deep-sea oil spill caused by its exploration, any substances that wash up on its shores will be “freely accessible,” and they won’t have to pay for it.
Shell’s New Zealand chairman, Rob Jager, made the promise at a public consultation meeting in Dunedin’s Town Hall auditorium earlier this morning.
“It is this company’s absolute commitment to this country, and to your community, to work tirelessly – but obviously with some sleep – over the next two years, or two months, to minimise this operation’s risks to a number no greater than 40,” he said.
“But despite these best efforts, no deep-sea drilling operation is completely without the potential for something to go wrong, and so it is our promise to you that, if in the event it does, any oil you find in your water, on your beaches, or your wildlife, will be completely free of charge.”
This morning’s meeting was briefly interrupted by angry protesters, concerned about the possible environmental impact of the project. Having been removed from the premises by security, the protestors later apologised, and said they “didn’t realise” the oil would be free.
Reaction to the announcement inside the meeting was largely positive, with many previously-concerned residents saying they now hoped there would be a major oil spill “the likes of which this country has never seen.”
“If it’s anything like the ones you see on the TV, there’ll be a boatload of oil,” laughed 52-year-old Dunedin resident Saul Hudson. “You can be rest assured that me and the missus will be down there at four in the morning, with as many buckets as we can carry. They said nothing about how much we could take.”
Shell promised that it has an “extensive” contingency plan in the event that anything goes wrong, including measures to “push as much oil onshore as possible,” and to provide specialised tools to help residents collect the oil from amongst the sand and off the back of penguins.
The company said it would be urging residents not to put the oil directly into their vehicles, because “it doesn’t work that way.”
Minister of Energy and Resources Simon Bridges has taken a slightly sceptical view of the move by Shell, saying that while it was “a nice gesture,” it was “a bit of a waste, economically speaking.”
“I think, frankly, it’s a bit irresponsible to say ‘Right, well, if we spill all the oil, we won’t even worry about trying to make economic gains off that,’” he said. “Sometimes you just have to make the best out of a bad situation, and if that means charging people one or two dollars per litre of oil they collect – whether intentionally or by accident – I don’t think anyone’s going to be too fussed about it.”
Shell’s announcement comes just two years after Greek shipping company Costamare Incorporated offered Tauranga “lots of free stuff,” when one of its container ships broke in half off the coast.