In a stunning about face the regional council is now looking at working with oil company OMV New Zealand to achieve its biodiversity goals.
According to today’s environmental services committee agenda the decision to consider the partnership was made last February, mere months after council Chairman Rex Graham declared he wanted no drilling of oil on or near the Bay’s aquifers.
In their report to the committee staff say that potential business investment in biodiversity in Hawke’s Bay will be key to achieving its regional biodiversity strategy goals.
They then go on to discuss the potential partnership with OMV NZ - an Austrian company which has been working in New Zealand for around 15-20 years in oil and gas exploration, production and development.
“In February 2017 staff were approached with the opportunity to have OMV NZ invest as a business in biodiversity in the Hawke’s Bay region,” it reads.
“This was discussed in principle with councillors who directed staff to further explore the nature of the investment and potential partnership.”
The report says OMV NZ has indicated they are interested in partnering with the council to potentially fund a predator control project in Mahia to the tune of $200,000 over four years.
In return, the company does not seek branding, instead “a mention alongside other sponsors in newsletters where relevant would be appreciated”.
While strictly speaking this proposed partnership has nothing to do with the prohibition on oil and gas drilling in the bay mooted by Graham and currently being worked on by his staff, the whole set up does make for some strange bedfellows.
Looking at it chronologically, a month after OMV approached council with their offer, the government announced its 2017 petroleum block offer – essentially putting 5,500 km² of the Bay up for sale – including areas of Hawke Bay outside three nautical miles from shore - to oil and gas companies.
At the time, Energy Minister Judith Collins said East Coast-Pegasus Basin [just off the coast of the Bay] is one of New Zealand’s most prospective basins, with known petroleum systems and natural oil and gas seeps.
Then in April this year, regional councillors stated they were willing to take on Government in a David and Goliath battle if it meant keeping the oil and gas companies out of Hawke Bay.
At the time Graham said he was never one to get “intimidated by the big boys”.
“I have a personal experience where I did take them [the government] on by myself with a couple of others and won,” he said.
“The government isn’t right just because they are the government and just because they are big. They can be beaten.”
Collins slammed the prohibition the following May, in a letter she penned to the regional councillors.
The issue went quiet for the month of June, but then this biodiversity item appeared on the ESC’s agenda.
OMV were approached for comment and when asked why they made the offer to council OMV’s Australasia senior vice president Gabriel Selischi denied any relationship between the council’s actions and the timing of the proposed project.
He says his company has a strong focus on corporate social responsibility in all the countries where they operate working on ongoing projects across New Zealand including predator control on wildlife sanctuaries, restoration of wetland habitats and regeneration projects.
Selischi says the OMV’s staff committee, which oversees such projects came across the Mahia proposal which due to potential of eliminating predators had strong appeal.
“We believe it will be a privilege for our staff to be involved in a project which has a high likelihood of delivering measurable environmental benefits to the local community,” he says.
When asked if OMV had tendered for any of the Bay’s 2017, he said the bidding and evaluation for New Zealand Government block offers is a confidential process.
However, Selischi did say for the past several years OMV NZ has been looking for additional oil and gas reserves in New Zealand.
“We have interests in nine exploration permits,” he says, not elaborating on where these permits were for.
While the oil company may want to do some good in the region, Napier Ward councillor Paul Bailey questions their reasons for this proposed partnership with the regional authority.
“Whilst I appreciate the offer from OMG NZ to partner with HBRC in the proposed Predator Free Mahia project I have serious concerns about their motivation,” he says.
“OMV NZ holds an offshore exploration permit, some of which comes under HBRC's jurisdiction.
“To my mind this raises serious concerns about potential conflict of interest for HBRC, let alone the moral and ethical dilemma created by accepting money from the oil and gas industry.”
Bailey says that declining OMV’s offer would not be a case of “cutting off our nose despite our face”.
“I think it would send a clear message about the type of partnerships we are willing to enter into,” he says.
“Something we need to do if we wish to meet our goal of becoming carbon neutral Hawke's Bay.”
If councillors today pass the staff recommendation to proceed with this partnership, then the HBRC would match this funding offered by OMV NZ, and from this the proposed predator free project could gain leveraged funding available from the Department of Conservation, bring the total amount up to $600,000.
Graham was approached for comment for this story, but did not return phone calls at the time of publication.