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Gareth Hughes: End Oil Exploration, General Debate Speech

I want to start with a personal story – The Rena

I remember being on the beach and seeing those oil blobs on the sand, the dead birds in buckets and people in Hazmat suits.

Oil spills were something you normally saw on TV but this time – you could see it, touch it, and smell it.

We discovered we couldn’t even cope with a small spill, let alone a large spill and discovered when Anadarko were drilling deep off our coasts, it could have taken 110 days for relief equipment to arrive while oil gushed out on to our beaches.

While the threat of an oil spill on the beaches we love was real, the bigger risk was something you couldn’t see, touch or smell – the climate-warming carbon dioxide gas.

While the media debate the pros and cons of oil exploration you can’t debate the physics of climate change.

Scientists warn we can’t afford to burn 75% of the fossil fuels we’ve already discovered if we want to avoid dangerous climate change.

A study in Nature Communications last year found if we burn all available fossil fuels, we’ll cause the fastest climate change in 420 million years!

Exploring for more oil is like pouring petrol into an already filled gas tank and lighting a match.

This is the nuclear-free moment of our generation.

Then, the defining image of that movement was nuclear ships and atomic explosions – today it’s the image of oil rigs and rising seas.

We find ourselves at an important historic turning point – will we continue exploring for new oil and gas that we can’t afford to burn?

We right now have the opportunity to stop looking for the stuff that’s burning the planet.

After 9 years of this country being a climate laggard – of actually subsidising polluters and oil drillers we have the opportunity to do the right thing.

Is recently at a Commonwealth conference and I felt proud telling small island states threatened with rising seas like Kiribati, the Seychelles and Mauritius that NZ now has an ambitious goal of being carbon neutral by 2050.

To get there we need to transition away from fossil fuels like oil.

Given some existing permits don’t expire until expire 2046 we need to stop granting more.

That’s why I’m calling on the government to stop offering new exploration permits for fossil fuels.

Secondly while existing production continues, to increase environmental and safety protections as the PCE has recommended and thirdly to put in place the infrastructure for a just transition for workers and regions affected.

Calling for a transition away from oil and never supporting a start date to that transition is reckless and irresponsible.

Just yesterday the oil industry was reported that we had to keep looking for more was because you couldn’t leave a monetisable resource unmonetised! What value do you put on billions of people and cultural extinction?

The industry says we have to explore for more or the lights might go off but that ignores the growth of clean energy and numerous studies that have shown 100% renewables is affordable and achievable.

Some are worried about gas supplies if we stopped exploring but if we used existing supplies for the most-efficient use – direct use in homes as more than 200,000 Kiwis currently use, we have two hundred years worth.

Others say what about oil for plastics. Callaghan Innovation told the Economic Development Select Committee recently that everything we use to produce plastics has bio-alternatives.

The industry says we need to keep exploring to increase exports. Again, this is new oil the world can’t afford to burn but why would we continue to look to last century’s economy and not the next? For electricity more is invested in renewables than fossil fuels and between now and 2030 the World Bank’s sister the International Finance Corporation say climate investment is a $23 trillion opportunity.

The fact is, it is a sunset industry. In NZ royalties have halved, a succession of oil companies have left and 78 permits have been surrendered since 2012.


No one is suggesting shutting down what’s left of the oil industry, but we are calling for a start to the transition and support for a just future.


The good news is we have much better solutions than more drilling, mining and fracking.

Clean energy grows four times more jobs than fossil fuels.

Our future isn’t more oil rigs off our coasts it’s wind turbines on our hills, insulation under our roofs, solar panels on top; modern public transport in our cities and sustainable zero-carbon jobs in our regions.

I support the end to exploration.