Home > politics > To Drill or Not to Drill?

To Drill or Not to Drill?

A major controversy currently active here in New Zealand involves whether we should be actively searching for oil, especially at deep sea sites. The group against it cite the potential environmental danger if there is a spill, the lack of large-scale involvement of local companies, and the climate change consequences of the carbon released when oil is burned. The group supporting exploration says we need oil and there is no current alternative, and that the economic activity is beneficial.

So who is right? Well, they are both right and they are both wrong…

I think most people would prefer not to rely so much on fossil fuels but how practical is this? Is there any sort of alternative available at this time? The realistic answer is no, which means we have to keep looking for new sources. But utilising those oil sources also introduces a major potential for disaster if things go badly wrong and contributes to climate change through release of carbon into the atmosphere.

And what is the economic benefit? Well there is some to this country but the big profits are made by a foreign corporation, mainly employing foreign people. To be fair, that same corporation also has to manage the risk of loss if no oil is found. The other issue is that oil extraction is temporary. Once the oil is gone so is the company and so is the economic benefit. So again things aren’t so simple.

My political opponents often label me a “lefty” or a “greeny” so I guess they assume I will be against drilling but that isn’t necessarily true. As I said above, I see a lot of negative issues around oil exploration, but at this time we have little choice so I think we should proceed. But there are two provisos, even on this rather restrained endorsement. First, there has to be extremely strong checks on safety at the site of exploration and drilling; and second, we should invest much more significantly in alternative energy research (maybe using the profits from any oil found).

And that is another reason (often not advanced by opponents) for blocking exploration. If we run out of oil it will push alternative source research forward. After all, necessity is the mother of invention. While we still have access to oil there is not only less reason to explore alternatives but those alternatives are sometimes actively inhibited by vested interests in existing industries.

So in the end the answer to the question “to drill or not to drill?” isn’t that simple. It certainly isn’t as simple as what is presented by most people on both sides of the argument. In the end the answer, I think, is “ok, drill, at this stage we have to accept oil exploration, but we shouldn’t like it, and we should be putting much more effort into exploring other possibilities”.

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