Vocally oppose oil and gas exploration and you will probably
not stop it going ahead, but the safety standards and
pay-offs for the community will be higher.
That was the message at a seminar in Dunedin at the Centre
for Sustainability yesterday, presented by visiting sociology
academic Associate Prof Patricia Widener, from Florida
She said there was no clear path yet to shift from fossil
fuel use, and most people opposed the industry only when it
encroached on their own lives.
''Oil is a non-issue until it's a local or regional issue,''
Around the world there was a wide range of safety standards
and financial compensation arrangements, sometimes within
She suggested some serious environmental breaches received no
publicity; the level of attention a community could attract
was crucial to its power to leverage benefits and safety
The presence of a vocal opposition lobby ensured greater
bargaining power for negotiating with exploration companies.
Despite this, opponents were frequently vilified by their own
communities, and had far fewer resources than the industry
they were trying to combat.
Financial compensation could have strings attached, such as
confidentiality or conditions over how money could be spent.
However, money could buy silence from the community, even in
the event of an environmental mishap, she suggested.
The industry invested heavily in its public image, often
supporting tourism business ventures and community
In poor communities, often frustrated by a lack of investment
by the government, it was easier to buy compliance.
Even Norway, considered an exemplar of the highest industry
standards, was noticeably ''quiet'' now about climate change
and its own oil industry.
Prof Widener suggested most people turned away from the
problem of how to make the transition from fossil fuels,
because it was so daunting.
She would like to see the debate expanded from the focus on
There were other serious concerns about the industry, she
said, citing poverty, inequality and environmental
Expansion of extraction industries often accompanied a rise
in poverty and inequality.
Prof Widener is visiting New Zealand on a sabbatical year to
research the effects of oil and gas exploration on