An offshore drilling platform (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Controversial clearance for OMV offshore drilling

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: OMV cleared by EPA for offshore well, charity raising alarm over state house sensors, and panel of climate commissioners appointed.

In a controversial decision, OMV have been cleared by the Environmental Protection Agency to drill a well off the coast of Otago. A comprehensive report on the matter comes from Business Desk (paywalled) and what the decision came down to was “that the potential effects of the planned activities, including cumulative effects on the biological environment and effects on existing interests, are not significant because they are either temporary or involve small areas – or low proportions – of habitat.” Basically, there wasn’t sufficient evidence that the well would directly damage the water in which it sat. OMV will also be working under strict conditions of environmental monitoring, and the rig they’ll be using was built for the North Sea, so will almost certainly be able to handle Southern Ocean conditions.

But that’s not really why the decision has been controversial. There have been huge protests about this particular programme because of what the well will be doing – getting hydrocarbons out of the sea floor which will create carbon emissions when used. That in turn will contribute to climate change – arguably the biggest environmental issue of all – but one that the EPA weren’t really able to take into account in their decision making. It led to farcical scenes – described here by Stuff’s Hamish McNeilly in August – in which activists turned up to try and oppose the project on fairly spurious grounds, because they weren’t allowed to talk about the actual reasons they opposed the project.

Greenpeace, who have waged a long campaign against OMV, have reacted furiously to the news, saying in a press release that it was a hypocritical decision while government politicians claim the mantle of climate leadership. There’s maybe a bit of misleading conflating going on there – it’s not like the government could have stepped in during the hearing and made a decision over the heads of the EPA. But what they can do is change the law, so that climate change can actually be taken into account in these decisions. There’s a review underway at the moment to the Resource Management Act, and for campaigners, that’ll probably be the best chance they get to make climate change relevant to legal decisions in this area.


A charity is raising the alarm over sensors that have been put in state houses, reports Radio NZ’s Kate Newton. The sensors would give Kainga Ora (formerly Housing NZ) the ability to measure and monitor living conditions like internal humidity levels or power use, and could even be used to work out how many people are in a room at any given time. Whare Hauora say that data could be misused, and result in vulnerable people being spied on and victimised. Kainga Ora, on the other hand, insist that it won’t be misused, and will help them understand how the housing stock is performing. Donna Cormack, an expert quoted in the story, is also concerned that it represents “a creeping, increasing type of surveillance capacity being built … without mechanisms that allow communities to be really engaged in the process”.


A panel of new climate change commissioners have been appointed, largely comprised of leading scientists. The NZ Herald reports it will include experts in emissions, adaptation and economics, among other subjects. In terms of their powers, they will monitor and review governmental goals on emissions reductions, but won’t have powers to make decisions directly.


A soldier with ties to the far-right is currently in military custody, but it’s unclear why. Marc Daalder at Newsroom has reported on the case, in which the NZDF has confirmed that an arrest was made at Linton Military Camp, but few other details. A far-right group has claimed the soldier as a member – they too are in the dark about why the arrest was made.


An interesting story about the use (or otherwise) of parliamentary venues. The Manawatu Standard reports a group were planning on holding an event in the grand hall to discuss the ongoing situation in the Indian province of Kashmir. The organisers say that was then revoked, though there is a fair bit of claim and counter-claim about how that came about. Kashmir itself remains incredibly tense, with an internet shutdown imposed by the Indian government now more than 130 days old.


Bad news for lovers of stone fruits. Farmers Weekly reports (a bit over a week ago) that supplies this summer of some types will likely be short, because of a dreadful hailstorm in the Hawke’s Bay back in October. It was a pretty unprecedented storm, and hit at the worst possible time. As such the volume of apricots, nectarines, peaches and plums going to market is way down, and some growers will be badly affected financially.


I’m late to this one as an extremely serious news connoisseur. But KEA Kids News is some phenomenally well-made public interest telly, even if it is fronted by literal children. This episode goes to a Waitara school where there’s a breakfast club for the kids, and the value of it in alleviating poverty. It also goes to a stray cat colony in Auckland where sterilisation efforts are underway. I imagine there are a few talented adults behind the scenes too, but really, people of all ages could learn a bit from this show.


Say Something Nice About a Journalist 2019: After rushing through some of the nominations for Radio NZ people yesterday, today it’s the turn of fellow battling media startup Newsroom. They’ve had a fine year, broken some huge stories, and people have noticed – here’s a few of them.

Rachael was entirely correct in this assumption: “I’m sure heaps of people will say this, but Melanie Reid’s work on The Uplift reminded me why quality journalism is still so important.”

Annie was “highly impressed by the work that Farah Hancock does, frequently for those who cannot speak for themselves: our threatened species.” Annie listed a whole lot of Hancock stories, like Foulden Maar, the fairy tern population threatened by the golf course, and her work on longfin eels. There were more suggestions, but I’m running out of space to list them.

Shanti said she’d “like to shout out Alex Ashton and the whole team at The Detail. The mix of global stories and New Zealand news works so well, and their take on the news podcast format is really effective.”

And if I can just slip a personal opinion in here, I rate Newsroom’s press gallery team very very highly. Sam Sachdeva’s nerdy international relations stories are seriously meaty and informative. And Laura Walters has got to be considered among the best young journos of the year, with special mention for her fearlessness in being one of the few journalists in the country to really get into conflict of interest questions around the PM’s lobbyist former chief of staff.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Right now on The Spinoff: Shoshana Maasland writes about changes that should happen to how breast cancer screening takes place. Danyl Mclauchlan writes about the amplification of the worst and stupidest political ideas in an attention economy – I highly rate this column, by the way. Jihee Junn has everything you need to know about managed funds. A group of us pick out our biggest political champions and flops of the year.

And some more decade in review stuff: Alex Casey writes about reality TV, a genre that (like it or not) has sort of defined the decade. Our writers continue counting down the top 100 TV moments of the 2010s. And Catherine Woulfe collects the ten most important NZ books of the last ten years.


For a feature today, a highlights package from one of the organisations that makes news work a lot better. I’ve talked about the Science Media Centre a bit before, but I just think they do a phenomenal job of getting actual scientists and proper information in front of the public. I won’t excerpt their list of the biggest science stories of the year here, because each section bounces off with links, so it could get confusing. But I encourage you to have a read of them, because they’re an excellent reminder of some fascinating topics.


Kyle Jamieson has been called in as fast bowling cover for the Black Caps, with Lockie Ferguson out for the rest of the series. If you’ve heard the name before, it’s probably because he took six wickets for seven runs in a Super Smash game at the start of the year. The NZ Herald profiled him then, noting his height, pace, and ability to swing the ball. He’s also just about to turn 25, and with the frontline seamers getting a bit longer in the tooth there’s a real chance he could be the future of the pace attack.

And in netball, Silver Ferns great Maria Folau has retired from the international game. Newshub reports she is one of several big names missing from the squad for the team’s next major tournament, though in the case of Laura Langman and Katrina Rore it is more of a sabbatical. Folau leaves the game with an outstanding legacy on the court, and will be tough to replace in the shooting circle – this piece from Newsroom from earlier in the year goes into some of the options to step up.


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