When the Government made the announcement that oil and gas would be phased out in New Zealand there were a lot of incredulous people across the political spectrum. They ranged from those who hoped for that day, but were concerned that politicians would shy away from making such an announcement, to those who worked in the industry and were scared that it would mean the ends of their livelihoods. And then there were others, such as myself sit in the middle, not quite believing such a day will actually happen, and think that those in the oil and gas sector will be able to find work.
Why? Contrary to the assumptions of many, there is considerable expertise in the oil and gas sector that could be employed in other energy projects, and not just in Taranaki or Northland.
How do I believe that this can happen?
One idea that I have long liked is exploring the feasibility of creating a nation-wide biofuel programme using material from the waste stream. This is an idea that has some investment in it already – Gull uses dairy waste to create a biodiesel. It has also experimented with the waste from beer. It uses 10% bioethanol. Ethanol is a key part of the fuel in recent car types, so having a bioethanol source will help to reduce the carbon emissions from our fuel. If other companies such as B.P., Z, Caltex and Mobil were to follow the lead of Gull, scope would exist for a significant reduction in vehicle emissions from burning fuel.
New Zealand needs to be bold. Right now it is suffering from severe aversion to radical overhaul of how and what our vehicle fleet consumes in the way of fuel. Yes, the Government sees a day when New Zealand will be carbon neutral, but does not have a working blueprint to get there. Nor does it see the potential alternatives sources that biofuel – a catch all term in my opinion for all fuels with a biological base, such as waste matter – can offer.
To do this we will need infrastructure. Should a feasible type/s of biofuel be found, there needs to be a means of collecting the waste matter that would be used. Having collected, there needs to be a drop off point with storage for it near a refinery that can turn it into the appropriate product/s. To have this infrastructure work we need skilled labour and that already exists in the form of the people working on energy projects in Taranaki. The skills and knowledge required would encompass the full range of skills currently available among the workforce in Taranaki.
To do this, the Government needs to be bold and open a dialogue with the oil and gas workers in Taranaki who will otherwise think that they are going to be shafted. That should not be the case, and certainly not if we really want true energy independence without having to rely unduly on the likes of B.P., Caltex and Mobil whose interests are purely corporatized and not necessarily in the interests of New Zealand or New Zealanders.