Five-week wait to plug well

Revelations that a "worst-case" oil well blowout in New Zealand waters could take five weeks to plug while equipment is brought from Scotland highlight the need for public input into offshore drilling decision-making, environmentalists say.

Anadarko's contingency plans for an uncontrollable blowout involve airfreighting heavy engineering equipment from Scotland to Singapore to assemble a capping stack which would then be shipped to New Zealand, a three-week sea voyage.

The time needed to source, assemble, move and install the capping stack is put at 35 days in the company's oil spill management plan for its exploratory well off the Waikato coast.

The plan was approved by Maritime NZ last year and released under the Official Information Act before Christmas.

Under draft regulations to accompany the new Exclusive Economic Zone Act, the Government plans to make offshore drilling a non-notified activity, meaning applications will not be subjected to public scrutiny.

Environmental Defence Society chairman Gary Taylor said there was a lack of clarity and certainty about how a serious oil spill would be responded to.

There seems to be a 'trust us - we know what we are doing' attitude," Mr Taylor says.

"While the probabilities are low, the consequences are such that we think there should be a public process, with the ability to call expert witnesses, to ensure absolute best practice is being applied."

Anadarko spokesman Alan Seay says such an event is extremely unlikely and in any serious spill all companies operating here would pool resources to respond.

The company's deepwater drilling programme is the first in a new wave of offshore exploration in New Zealand, with permits granted to five more companies for 2014.

Submissions on the EEZ non-notified activities regulations close with the Ministry for the Environment on January 31.

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