A group of Dunedin
businesses is moving to claim the high ground as debate
intensifies over the arrival of oil companies in Otago
However, with Anadarko's drilling ship, the Noble Bob
Douglas, due by the end of the month, protest group Oil Free
Otago has also warned more protest action could be expected.
The warning came days after a group of four Dunedin
businessmen created a new group, Pro Oil and Gas Otago, to
spell out their support for gas exploration off Dunedin's
The group's Facebook page has attracted more than 1300
''likes'' since Saturday, including from pro-drilling city
councillors Andrew Whiley and Mike Lord, and support was
continuing to climb.
Spokeswoman Robyn Broughton, of Dunedin, said the group
wanted to counter ''scaremongering'' by opponents of oil and
gas exploration, and planned to meet representatives from the
Dunedin City Council and oil companies.
A public event designed to demonstrate the city's willingness
to embrace the industry and its potential economic benefits
was being discussed, although plans were yet to be confirmed,
The city had an opportunity for ''astronomical'' economic
benefits from a natural gas find, but public debate to date
suggested the city would not welcome the industry.
''I don't want to see my grandchildren raised in London or
Europe. I want something that will encourage our young people
to come home ... [gas drilling] has the ability to do that,''
Mrs Broughton said.
Growing support for the group since Saturday also showed the
''silent majority'' was in favour of exploration, she
However, Oil Free Otago spokeswoman Rosemary Penwarden
dismissed that, pointing to her group's ''blockade'' of Otago
Harbour on Sunday, which attracted 250 people despite bad
That was worth more than clicking a button to ''like'' a
Facebook page, she believed.
''That doesn't mean much to me. They didn't come out on the
Her group's ''blockade'' was part of a weekend of activities
staged during the Oil Free Future Summit in Dunedin, which
also attracted hundreds of people, she said.
Opposition to drilling off Dunedin's coast was also spread
across a variety of Facebook pages, including Save Otakou
from Oil Drilling, which had 1105 ''likes'', and Oil Free
Otago, which had 515.
She welcomed alternative views, saying her group was not
scaremongering and did not claim to represent the entire
However, the new group's views would not alter fundamental
concerns about fossil fuels and climate change, Ms Penwarden
''The bottom line has to be are we going to be responsible
for our children's and grandchildren's futures, or not?
''We are pro-good, economic, sensible growth for Dunedin, not
Debate over industry has intensified in Dunedin following
Shell's announcement it would drill an exploratory well in
the Great South Basin, in waters south of Dunedin, as part of
a joint venture in 2016-17.
Anadarko also planned to begin drilling an exploratory well
in the Canterbury Basin, 60km east of Otago Peninsula, next
Both companies hoped to confirm commercially-viable
quantities of natural gas, but have also stressed full-blown
extraction, if it was to proceed, would be years away.
Mrs Broughton said Pro Oil and Gas Otago was in ''regular''
contact with the oil companies, which were ''delighted'' by
the public response, even if it would not influence any
decision to base themselves in Dunedin.
The businessmen behind the new group did not yet want to be
identified, preferring to work behind the scenes, but there
was ''nothing sinister'' in that, she said.
Anadarko New Zealand corporate affairs manager Alan Seay said
the company was ''a long way'' from deciding whether to
proceed to full extraction, and whether to use Dunedin or
Invercargill as a supply base.
However, it was ''wonderful'' to see growing support for the
group, which confirmed what the company already knew, he
''We know there's a lot of support for our activities there
and this confirms it.''