New Zealand restricts offshore oil drilling

New Zealand hopes to become CO2-neutral in the coming decades. On Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the first step in this direction: no more permits for new offshore oil exploration will be granted. Barbara Barkhausen reports from Sydney.

Greenpeace hailed Jacinda Ardern’s announcement to ban new permits for offshore drilling as a “historic moment”. (Image credit: haymarketrebel via Flickr)

When Social Democrat Jacinda Ardern joined the New Zealand government thanks to a coalition last year, she made climate change one of the cornerstones of her policy.

The goals she set for her team: to generate 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2035 and to make the economy carbon-neutral by 2050.

Existing permits remain in place

Now the New Zealand politician has announced the first step towards implementing these goals: from now on, there will be no new permits for offshore oil exploration.

It will take up to 30 years for the ban to reach New Zealand, as the 37-year-old politician said on Thursday, because it refers purely to new permits and has no effect on existing ones.

Crude oil an important export commodity

Oil is currently still an important export commodity for New Zealand. About 20 oil and gas fields are in operation in New Zealand, including fields such as Kapuni, Maui, Pohokura and Kupe – all located in the Taranaki region on the west coast of the North Island.

While most oil is exported, gas accounts for about 20 per cent of New Zealand’s primary energy supply. According to the New Zealand media, the last of the permits expires in 2030, but if oil or gas is found, production could continue for decades.

“Transitions have to start somewhere and unless we make decisions today that will essentially take effect in 30 or more years’ time, we run the risk of acting too late and causing abrupt shocks to communities and our country,” Jacinda Ardern said.

Greenpeace: “historic moment”

The decision is significant for the waters around New Zealand, where approximately 50 per cent of the world’s whale and dolphin species live or migrate. Greenpeace New Zealand celebrated the government’s decision as a “historic moment” for the country and a “huge win for our climate”.

“The tide has turned irreversibly against big oil in New Zealand,” said Russel Norman, managing director of Greenpeace New Zealand. With her decision Ardern responded to a Greenpeace petition that collected 50,000 signatures last month.

The conservative opposition described the decision as “economic vandalism” and said it makes no ecological sense.

“This decision will ensure the demise of an industry that provides over 8,000 high-paying jobs and $2.5 billion for the economy,” National’s energy and resources spokesman, Jonathan Young, said. The decision would not help solve climate change, but instead shift production only elsewhere in the world.

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