Mayor slams protesters' actions as lost opportunity

Dave Cull
Dave Cull
The ''arrogant and counter-productive antics'' of protesters who disrupted Shell's meeting in Dunedin this week did the city a ''huge disservice'' at a time when it should be showing the oil company a friendly face, city councillors say.

The comments came as a similar meeting in Invercargill this week went without disruption, and Invercargill City Council officials welcomed the company.

''I think the main message the community needs to get is that the council, and particularly elected representatives are also concerned that the operation is sustainable and environmentally safe, and if it is, we want it to come here,'' Acting Mayor Syd Brown said yesterday.

Shell held talks in both cities this week to outline with invited guests its plans for a deepwater test well off the Otago-Southland coast.

After its Dunedin meeting, the company said the chances of it deciding to go ahead with an exploratory drilling programme were still only 50:50.

The company is yet to decide whether its operations would be based in Invercargill or Dunedin, should it decide to proceed. Mr Cull is in China, but said on Facebook this week the possibility of oil and gas extraction off Otago's coast was significant, especially as there were no regional royalty payments, but the risks would stay local.

''For those reasons, (among others) a good many people want the opportunity ... to question and engage with both the oil companies and the Government.''

While not at the meeting, he said protesters who gained access ''in bad faith'' and then effectively shut it down, prevented others from questioning and challenging Shell in a constructive manner.

''They did our community a huge disservice.

''Shell will be understandably reluctant to engage again so publicly, and the wider public is likely to bracket all questions of and challenges to oil company intentions as extreme and negative.''

Offshore oil and gas exploration and extraction was a sector where local councils had no jurisdiction, so willing engagement between councils and community on the one hand and the oil companies was all the more important, he said.

''I deplore that opportunity being denied me and our community by such arrogant and counter-productive antics.''

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt told Radio New Zealand yesterday Invercargill had no time for protesters who refused to listen and was ready for Shell to come and base itself there should it decide to drill.

Mr Brown said the community should be confident the city council and its elected representatives were equally concerned to ensure any operation be carried out in a sustainable, environmentally safe manner.

He said the protesters had acted selfishly.

''They had an invited representative there who could have asked the questions and taken the answers away for them to consider, but they disrupted the meeting and took away the rest of the community's rights to the same thing.''

If the city was unfriendly to the company, it would look elsewhere for a base, and Invercargill and Timaru were both very keen, he said.

Cr Jinty MacTavish said while there was a question about what evidence there was that there would be any benefit to a city being used as a service base, the real issue was whether the country wanted to support an industry that contributed to climate change.

The Government, however, was not providing a forum for that discussion, which led to situations like Monday's.

She said she had no control over who was at the meeting and neither condoned nor defended the protesters' behaviour, but said there were lessons to be learned on all sides.

Oil Free Otago spokeswoman Rosemary Penwarden, who organised Monday's protest outside the meeting, said Shell was not telling the public the full story and needed to be more open.

If people were to be friendly and polite to Shell at this stage, they might not understand the depth of concern in the community.

Her group had one representative officially in the meeting and their intention was not to disrupt it, ''but I don't apologise for people taking it upon themselves to be really badly behaved''.

''They are extremely passionate about what they believe.''

- debbie.porteous@odt.co.nz

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