Consultation on oil search of concern

Andrew Whiley
Andrew Whiley
As Shell visits Dunedin to update council and business leaders on its plans for the Great South Basin, one city councillor is worried about the negative message the city's community is sending to the oil and gas industry.

Cr Andrew Whiley said he had ''a big issue'' with the recent consultation process around the council's submission on the 2014 petroleum block offer.

Council staff have previously said the fact the public consultation period was short and badly timed was out of the council's control.

They also say they recognise the way the council consults and engages the community needs work, and a review of how it does that has been under way for several months.

The council called for public submissions to help shape its own response to consultation on the 2014 petroleum block offer process being run by New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals.

The council was given one day's notice of a short submission period, which was also over the local body election period this year.

The consultation was advertised online and in local newspapers, and an article appeared in the Otago Daily Times.

Of the 227 community submissions returned, 199 opposed oil and gas exploration.

Cr Whiley said he was ''really concerned'' the submissions sent a message that 90% of the population in Dunedin was against exploration.

He felt the council could have done its consultation better and had not promoted it in the true sense, as it had with issues around mobile traders or cycleways, and there was no real sense of what was involved in the submission.

He was particularly concerned about the timing of the consultation and that there was little notice of the submission being in the public domain.

He believed a ''whole raft of people that support the oil and gas industry'' would have been interested in submitting had they been more aware of it.

He would ''hate to think'' the oil and gas industry might look at this and think it was the attitude of Dunedin, and become disinterested in coming south, he said.

''As the deputy chair of the economic development committee, I definitely think we need to be focusing on all business development opportunities.''

DCC corporate policy team leader Maria Ioannou said staff had expected a period of several months for consultation, but were given one day's notice that it would be conducted during local body elections and conclude just after that.

The process for consulting with the community was overseen by then chief executive Paul Orders and the timing meant it had to be a staff submission.

At the time, Ms Ioannou said the DCC and other councils had pointed out the submission period made it difficult for councils to make a democratic submission on an issue of significance.

This week, she said while there were specific issues with that particular consultation, it had become clear to the council some time ago that it needed to review its consultation policy.

That work had broadened to include looking at how to improve community engagement in general, to ensure consultation across the council was consistent.

She said in the new year council staff hoped to talk to the public generally about what worked for them and what did not.


Warm and fuzzy welcome?

I am not convinced that the oil and gas companies would avoid Dunedin due to a frosty reception from joe public. I suspect they are looking for access to our resource and the resultant financial gains, rather than a warm and fuzzy welcome. At this stage the information available suggests that most of those who feel strongly about the prospect of drilling in Dunedin are not in favour of it. I hope that all of our councillors understand and respect that. Further consultation is fine, but don't dismiss the submissions that have been made already. [abridged]

Highlights the passionate people on this issue

Yes, the time frame to submit was tight, however it highlights those passionate and motivated enough to get onto the submission when the opportunity was there.  90% of those people are opposed to off shore drilling.  I imagine that most of the 90% envision an alternative, more sustainable future and that is what they're standing up for.

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