Gas hub gains a case of us or them

Andrew Whiley
Andrew Whiley
The residents of Dunedin have a choice to either embrace the concept of the city being a hub for offshore gas companies or accept the alternative and encourage the companies to set up their hub in Invercargill.

Neither the residents of Dunedin nor the Dunedin City Council are in the position to say if gas exploration goes ahead off the coast of Otago.

That decision has already been made - like it or not. The decision in our control is where these exploration companies will base themselves.

Will it be Dunedin or Invercargill? Which community will reap the rewards of playing host? The residents of Dunedin, the DCC and the council's economic development unit must support and embrace all new businesses keen to establish in our city.

The employment opportunities and family and economic benefits this exploration hub would bring to the city are significant.

The Berl report estimates the potential benefits to the Otago community will be 256 direct jobs, $179 million spent regionally and $71 million generated per year in GDP for the local community over 45 years ($3.2 billion to the region's GDP over its life).

In the first few years of development, there would be more than 1000 jobs created and $1 billion spent. Dunedin and its residents will benefit in jobs and economic spend if the city is the hub for the offshore exploration companies.

Industries such as ship repair, provedores, construction, engineering, helicopter services, software and IT will all increase as will road and rail freight movements and airport and port traffic.

There will be strengthened links to Otago University in health sciences, earth science and surveying plus more dollars spent in the city's accommodation, entertainment and hospitality industries.

But what about the ethical debate about using fossil fuels, climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and the future of the planet?

These are all serious issues and ones that governments, corporations, scientists and universities around the world are all working on to address. Globally, most of us are now aware of these challenges and are worried about the role of CO2 in climate change.

We should actually welcome exploration and production of natural gas as it can contribute to a significant reduction in those emissions. According to a report from the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions issued in June 2013, ''Increased use of natural gas in the US energy supply is contributing to a decline in greenhouse gas emissions''.

Personally, I love the idea of alternative power sources. I look forward to the day when most Dunedin residents use solar energy for their homes and drive electric cars.

I believe wind farms are amazing and effective, tidal technology is a real potential for our region and the fully electric car is getting closer to becoming mainstream.

However, I know these alternatives are years away and are a long-term proposition.

I have a friend who invested in tidal technology more than 15 years ago and hydrogen cells for cars have been worked on for over 20 years and still aren't perfected.

Can we as a planet, as a community and as individuals do better? Yes, but realistically we are 20 to 30 years away from some goals.

So, how does this fit into Dunedin's future? By supporting this industry, you will grow jobs. Education, research and development will flourish and this will support universities and corporations to develop new technologies.

Dunedin is ideally suited to play host to the support industries for offshore exploration and we will see a dramatic increase in smart minds staying in Dunedin to be a part of the future in the energy and engineering sector.

These minds will look outside the box and will look at positive alternatives that can make for a cleaner and greener future.

So a plea to the Dunedin and Otago region: let's embrace the opportunity to play host as the southern exploration hub for the companies that are coming.

If it isn't Dunedin then it will be Invercargill!

Andrew Whiley is a DCC councillor. 

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