22 Mar 2017

Protesters dragged away from entrance of energy conference

1:12 pm on 22 March 2017

There were ugly scenes at an oil industry conference in New Plymouth today as police removed protesters blocking the venue's entrances.

Police try to move on protesters outside the NZ Petroleum Conference in New Plymouth.

Police try to move on protesters outside the NZ Petroleum Conference in New Plymouth. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The New Zealand Petroleum Conference has been held in Auckland for the past few years, but moved to Taranaki for this year's event.

About 200 protesters barricaded the entrances to the TSB Showplace about 7.30. and when delegates attempted to shift to an alternative venue at The Mayfair, they shut that down too.

Protesters block the entrance to the TSB Showplace, New Plymouth, where the NZ Petroleum Conference is being held.

Protesters block the entrance to the TSB Showplace, New Plymouth, where the NZ Petroleum Conference is being held Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Shortly before 9am, police warned the protesters that they would be trespassed if they did not make way and soon after officers moved in.

Scuffles broke out as a path was made for the delegates and at least two protesters were knocked to the ground, although it did not appear any arrests were made.

Protest organiser Emily Bailey

Protest organiser Emily Bailey Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Protest organiser Emily Bailey said fears about climate change brought the protesters out on the street.

"You know climate change has started. We've had the worst growing season in Taranaki for 30 years, we've seen floods, droughts, wild fires and our Pacific island neighbours are being drowned by country's like this which are not prepared to take the necessary steps to get off fossil fuels."

Ms Bailey said the oil and gas industry was delaying the transition to renewable energy to maximise its profits.

GNS scientist Christopher Hollis

GNS scientist Christopher Hollis Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

While most delegates refused to talk to media, Christopher Hollis - the principal scientist paleontology at GNS science - said many delegates shared the protesters' concerns and were looking for solutions.

"Emissions are the problem, right? People use oil and gas very efficiently and many of us here are working hard to find ways (to use it) that don't damage the planet.

"So we're all on the same side really."

Most delegates had managed to get into the venue by late morning although protesters remained at the entrances.

Police confront protesters outside the conference.

Police confront protesters outside the conference. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

New areas of exploration opened up

Meanwhile, the government has added two new areas to the search for oil and gas in New Zealand.

An existing area for petroleum exploration has been pushed closer to the coast line off Hawke's Bay, while the other area, in Southland, included land from the coast up to the Fiordland lakes.

Along with the two new areas, six others that were on the agenda last year were also being offered.

Only one new exploration permit was accepted in 2016, compared with nine the previous year and 15 the year before that.

Announcing the offer at the conference, the Minister of Energy and Resources Judith Collins said the price of oil had trended down in recent years but she was hoping for a recovery in a "highly resilient industry".

A protester on the ground, refusing to move as police try to clear a path for delegates into the conference.

A protester falls to the ground as police try to clear a path for delegates into the conference. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Protesters block the entrance to the TSB Showplace, New Plymouth, where the NZ Petroleum Conference is being held.

Protesters block the entrance to the TSB Showplace, New Plymouth, where the NZ Petroleum Conference is being held. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

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