By Neil Ritchie

THE ADVANTAGE New Zealand Petroleum Summit 2015, held in Auckland during late March, saw over 500 delegates from 14 countries representing over 150 companies, organisations and government agencies attend.

Held at the SkyCity Convention Centre, security was at an all-time high as uniformed police patrolled in a bid to prevent activists gaining access to the conference venue, as they did in 2014.

While no activists gained access to the 2015 conference, about 2,000 people gathered outside the venue in a protest organised by Greenpeace, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM), Oil Free Auckland and the 350 Aotearoa organisation on
the afternoon of the first day as delegates attended preliminary sessions, including some farm-in presentations.

But only a handful of protestors were present outside the convention centre on the morning of the second day when Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges officially opened the conference, as well as launching the government’s 2015 Petroleum Blocks Offer.

The latest blocks offer opens up just over 429,000 square kilometres of nearly all frontier acreage, except for one offshore and one onshore block in the Taranaki basin.

The four offshore release areas are the Reinga-Northland basin, Taranaki basin, Pegasus-East Coast basin, and the Canterbury-Great South basins.

The three onshore release areas are one in Taranaki and two on the West Coast of the South Island. Bids close at the end of September.

Presenters at the farm-in seminar included American major Anadarko Petroleum and Austrian giant OMV, Todd Energy, New Zealand Oil & Gas, Canadian listed junior TAG Oil and UK listed junior Mosman Oil & Gas.

Noticeable by their absence were Canada listed New Zealand Energy Corporation and UK listed Kea Petroleum – neither of which have much acreage to farm out anyway.

Deepwater Taranaki partners US company Randall C Thompson LLC and South Korea’s Hyundai Hysco were represented by Elemental Group managing director Brett Rogers of New Plymouth.

As well as the usual technical and semi-technical presentations, high on the agenda was the need for the industry to better prepare for increasing opposition from hardened environmentalists committed to stopping the extraction of oil and gas.

Hence many of the sessions covered such topics as achieving a more balanced approach to community engagement and better communication about the continued benefits of using oil and gas in a world forecast to grow both population-wise and economically.

Two of the three international keynote speakers – American environmentalist turned oil and gas representative Tisha Schuller and Australian geophysical expert and consultant, John Hughes – both spoke about the need for accuracy,
empathy and understanding when working with all sectors, be they the general public, government departments or other industries.

Ms Schuller, from Denver, Colorado, said the petroleum industry tended to be dominated by extremes – those with the “drill baby drill” philosophy regardless of consequences and those against the extraction of natural resources.

“But engagement with the public is critical… the industry needs to break out of the stereotypes of old white guys, scientific types. It’s not the good guys and the bad guys,” the president and chief executive of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association said.

She added that environmentalists swayed public opinion primarily by organising lots of people to be at their protests and that publicity about children and crying babies won people’s hearts.

Ms Schuller also used the necessity of modern energy sources to lead into the significant role oil and gas are playing in the development of many non-western countries.

There were still about 1.4 billion people of the world’s seven billion population who had no daily access to modern energy sources, only traditional supplies.

“It’s ridiculous emerging economies should only have energy if it’s clean and renewable… access to (modern) energy is really magical, helping reduce world poverty… this has to be considered (along with climate change issues).

She said the energy industry needed to find allies in other sectors and for all people – from roughnecks and roustabouts to chief executives – to be informed and engage with communities.

“Building rapport takes a long time (but) we have got to get better with engagements with communities… humanising the industry and winning the hearts of people in the middle, not the hardened militant activists.”

Mr Hughes, geophysical operations adviser to the Australian Norwood Resources organisation, said the claims of environmentalists that seismic surveys damaged the environment were nothing more than myths.

He spoke specifically about recent Greenpeace claims that seismic blasts by survey ships could be heard over 100 kilometres away, were harmful and known to distress marine mammals.

With over 44 years of experience in geophysical operations, he said catchy slogans, headlines and perceived but not proven issues became “facts”.

But he concluded there was no indisputable evidence offshore seismic survey operations ever caused any known injuries to marine mammals.

However, he also noted the industry did itself no favours by using terms such as “shooting” seismic as the public often associated the word seismic with earthquakes.

“Shooting” and talk of “unconventional petroleum resources” also conjured up pictures of “cowboys at work”. He preferred the term “acoustic monitoring” instead.

Activists were spreading “fear and confusion” with their inaccuracies and this misinformation, which tended to dominate news headlines, he said.

The oil and gas industry needed to counter this with accuracy, empathy and understanding, he added.