10 Sep 2015

East Coast iwi 'not opposed' to protesting oil, gas plans

6:17 pm on 10 September 2015

East Coast Maori are prepared to protest plans to explore for oil and gas off the coast of Gisborne.

The coast near Gisborne.

Photo: 123RF

Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges has opened consultation on four proposed exploration blocks.

One of them stretches from East Cape in the north to the lower South Island - a total of 68,661 square kilometres.

Gisborne District Councillor Josh Wharehinga said his phone had been going off.

"I've received heaps of messages, not only from Maori, but also the general public in opposition to the share offer that's gone up."

He said this situation was all too familiar for the locals.

In 2012, major protests were led by Te Whanau a Apanui over deep sea drilling plans for Raukumara Basin, at the top of East Cape.

"A lot of Maori iwi from Gisborne also mobilised to support Whanau a Apanui because that was right on the cusp of both of our tribal lands.

"A lot of the general sentiment is 'Man, so we've got to do this all again?', but the thing is ... we've learned a lot from the last time in regards to petrobas, so we actually have been able to start mobilising ourselves quite quickly."

He said if the exploration went wrong, the environment would be devastated for a long time.

Consultation started

The consultation process with iwi and local authorities started a week ago and is being run by New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals.

Local iwi Te Aitanga a Mahaki lead negotiator Willie Te Aho said he had not yet heard a word.

"We've seen the example from Te Whanau a Apanui, where they've said no, the risk is too great, prevention is better than cure.

"And so they opposed from the outset. Really that's our opening stance, because until we have the information, until a rangatira ki te rangatira approach is taken, the reality is that we can't agree to what we don't know."

Mr Te Aho said the iwi was not opposed to protesting, if other avenues failed.

Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges said letters were being sent out to iwi, who must respond to get a face to face meeting.

"We want to hear specific environmental and cultural issues. We've shown in the past that we do refine our block offers on the basis of that.

"Whilst everyone is entitled to their opinion, I think generalised dislike is not something that will result in changes."

The Gisborne District Council is finalising an agreement with Ngati Porou to co-manage land and water in the region.

Mayor Meng Foon said some people relied on the ocean for their long-term livelihood, and said any oil gas exploration needed very careful environmental protection mechanisms and back-up safety equipment in place.

Gisborne iwi Ngati Porou was unavailable for comment.

The consultation process closes on 30 October.

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