South Taranaki coast. Image: Getty

No oil permits? No problem – just give us time to prepare

South Taranaki iwi Ngāti Ruanui have commended the government on its decision to stop block offers for offshore oil and gas exploration, despite holding more oil and mineral exploration permits than any other iwi. If only the government were better prepared for the transition, writes Debbie Ngarewa-Packer.

Our iwi understands that there needs to be a starting point for a brave new carbon neutral world. In fact, this was not really a surprise; we predicted this was likely to be the government’s first move in this area.

The big question now is what does this transition look like over the next five, 10, and 20 to 30 years?

Ngāti Ruanui knows that the oil companies have had a big impact on our social, cultural and economic landscape. Looking for a path of transition will not always be easy, and some sectors of our communities may in fact see no road ahead. Help will be needed and we need a plan. Being a part of the transition to new resources, new jobs and a new economy based on innovation and growth is going to be critical for our region.

Ngāti Ruanui has spearheaded change in the oil and mineral sector, working with industry to adapt to new environmental standards and showing the way forward around best practices and what they look like on the ground for interactions with tangata whenua. Ngāti Ruanui considers itself ready for the change ahead; it will be a reality very soon.

We have been thinking and actively working in the area of innovation, job growth in alternative agriculture ventures and the active promotion of STEM learning. Re-building the base for an innovative society of the future by Ngāti Ruanui is already underway.

Joining up with the community and government around a transition away from the oil and gas sector is a game changer but one that must be started. If you are already in the change dimension, and many iwi are, this could be a significant advantage for both us and the wider community to harness our ability to adapt, to look forward and to grow.

We have to also look at this announcement with an eye on what is already happening. Change has already begun. Many oil and gas jobs have already disappeared, or undergone serious change, with the economic downturn in oil prices. Permits both onshore and offshore have been relinquished. The trends have not been good for this sector for a number of years now. These changes have happened without a forward-looking plan and without any real community attention; this is because many have been holding on to the past and hoping everything will come right on its own.

Keeping all of this in context is also important. Over the last 30 years only three major oil platforms have been established off the coast of Taranaki and these are likely to stay in production for at least another 20 years. Coupled with any new discoveries from existing permits this will likely mean the oil business offshore will be a player well into the future.

Let’s start the planning now. What training is needed? What development is needed? What science is needed? What will New Zealand’s point of difference be? We have time to plan, to learn from the past and to move forward.

The iwi economy has turned 5 billion into 50 billion. Iwi are direct investors, agile and should be part of leading the design of this future plan. This leadership role is also important with a growing population, predominantly young, so that they may become a part of the future.

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