Developing a dialogue to understand public perceptions of petroleum exploration and inform future community engagement in New Zealand

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Becker, J.S.; Baker, V.; Hollis, C.J.; Waitaiki, H.; Try, D. 2018 Developing a dialogue to understand public perceptions of petroleum exploration and inform future community engagement in New Zealand. Lower Hutt, N.Z.: GNS Science. GNS Science report 2018/01. 73 p.; doi: 10.21420/G21H0K

Abstract: New Zealand reflects international trends of intense discourse, heightened public concern and growing social mobilisation against industries, policy agencies and, increasingly, science research organisations involved in petroleum exploration and extraction. Recent exploration activities in deep-sea petroleum basins have catalysed public concerns about greater uncertainties of the new technologies and possible environmental impacts. These concerns surrounding deep-sea exploration targets appear to be anchored in unresolved concerns relating to petroleum exploration, extraction and production.
Within the context of this highly polarised debate, we conducted a pilot cycle of deliberative engagement to explore community perceptions of off-shore exploration in the Pegasus Basin – a deep-water target for petroleum exploration. This pilot study aimed to better understand perceptions of the potential risks and benefits of petroleum exploration, to identify underpinning themes, and explore if there might be ways to reframe more constructive conversations - to enable key policy and industry stakeholders to better address and resolve the fundamental concerns raised by participants. The project involved:
a. focus group sessions with local Iwi (indigenous), and GNS staff (petroleum science, and non-petroleum science groups);
b. a homework exercise canvassing viewpoints of petroleum in people’s wider social networks;
c. a multi-stakeholder forum where focus group representatives met with stakeholders from the petroleum industry, central and regional government agencies.
We identified several underpinning and interlocking perceptions. Firstly, was a lack of understanding about the extent to which society depends upon petroleum products for most facets of everyday life - meaning that benefits are less recognised than the risks. Secondly, was a lack of knowledge about the science of exploration. The public perceived risks from seismic surveying to marine life, the potential of seismic surveys to induce earthquakes, risks of spills or accidents, and a lack of local technologies for fast response and clean up. These risks sit uneasily with indigenous cultural environmental values. There was also apprehension from Iwi that their consent to exploration implied automatic consent to extraction, with a lack of checks and balances for meaningful input. Thirdly, were perceptions of the lack of consultation, transparency and apparent safeguards in the regulatory processes. All groups expressed a desire that government and industry improve community engagement practices. Trust and transparency were identified as fundamental issues to address before petroleum exploration might gain more credibility amongst the public.
The pilot study confirmed the value of future research directions for two-way deliberative engagement to build greater transparency and deepen shared understanding across the different stakeholder perspectives. However, this is a controversial issue, bound by regulations. In this context, meaningful consultation in which communities can actually influence decisions can be difficult to guarantee. Suggestions for future approaches included: long-term transparent strategic planning about petroleum exploration, extraction, and its place in New Zealand’s future energy mix; more attention and analysis of the benefits for local communities from regional petroleum development; and reframing the conversation – from a focus solely on exploration and extraction, to petroleum’s present and future role in people’s lifestyles.
This literature review focuses on the nature and role of social media in contributing to community resilience, with New Zealand as a specific point of focus. It identifies three main areas where social media has supported resilient forms of behaviour. The first concerns the role of social media in supporting information-seeking behaviours during crisis events. The second looks at the role of social media in empowering individual and community actors, and in providing a forum for interactions that support a sense of community. The third considers the role of social media on mobilising volunteers. This review also identifies the risks and limitations associated with the use of social media in supporting community resilience. Despite these limitations, this review of the literature shows that social media is now one of the tools in the toolbox of resources that can increase the opportunities for New Zealanders to become more resilient (auth)