Score one for the dozens of blue whales placidly munching plankton off New Zealand’s South Taranaki Bight.
On 4 February Texas-based company Anadarko abandoned an exploratory well off the west of the North Island in the Taranaki Basin, where it had been drilling since November last year. According to Anadarko New Zealand manager Alan Seay, the drilling, which began last November, reached a depth of 2.8 miles, but found no commercially viable oil.
Putting a brave face on the news, Prime Minister John Key said, "It's well established that a huge number of wells that these companies will drill for will prove not to actually have either commercial oil or hydrocarbons, or none whatsoever. So it's disappointing from Anadarko's point of view and from our point of view, because of course that would be great for New Zealand if there were some big oil findings there. My understanding is they're moving on to other parts of New Zealand, hopefully they'll be more successful there."
The ship, the Noble Bob Douglas, is expected to sail to the next drilling site off the east coast of the South Island after coming up dry in the Taranaki Basin. Anadarko said in a statement that while the Taranaki Basin well did not reveal significant oil deposits, the information collected is "very useful" in deciding on future moves.
The Green Party has issued a statement calling on the Government to stop its deep sea oil drilling plans, with Green MP Gareth Hughes commenting, "The National Government has been rolling out the red carpet to the oil and gas industry, but rather than picking a winner, it has picked a loser and New Zealanders are worse off for it."
Anadarko's New Zealand exploration program has been controversial, with environmental groups questioning the safety of deep sea drilling in the wake of BP's Deep Sea Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, challenging Anadarko's drilling program both at sea and in the courts. Anadarko had a 25 per cent interest in the Gulf of Mexico oil prospect in which the Deep Sea Horizon was drilling.
Greenpeace energy campaigner Steve Abel said the announcement was "a real bad day for John Key's government and for Anadarko. The Texan oil giant has not only announced that their New Zealand drilling has failed, they've also announced a loss of over NZ$950 million dollars in the last quarter." Criticizing government policy, Abel said, "Instead, they should be backing our own cutting-edge clean energy industry, which will bring thousands of jobs and a multi-billion dollar economic boost. That's what smart politicians would be doing.”
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Urs Signer, from the environmental group Climate Justice said that Anadarko's failure to find commercially viable oil off the Taranaki coast was "a call for celebration and a victory for the planet. People need to face the fact that the era of fossil fuels is coming to an end. We can throw money into the drilling waste-bin or we can reduce our energy use and move to a clean, renewable energy economy. The world's oceans and climate are better off now with the failure of these oil rigs."
But the blue whales are not necessarily out of the woods yet. As the Noble Bob Douglas steams toward drilling in the Canterbury Basin, Anadarko stated that it would retain its drilling license in the Deepwater Taranaki Basin and would not rule out the possibility of future drilling in the area.
But for the moment, the Taranaki Basin is theirs to enjoy.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com