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John MacDonald: The Marsden Point pipedream needs shattering

Author
John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Tue, 28 Nov 2023, 1:02PM
Marsden Point Oil Refinery ceased refining last year. Photo / Tania Whyte
Marsden Point Oil Refinery ceased refining last year. Photo / Tania Whyte

John MacDonald: The Marsden Point pipedream needs shattering

Author
John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Tue, 28 Nov 2023, 1:02PM

Forget about it.

That’s pretty much the message the Government is getting today from the owner of the Marsden Point oil refinery.

That’s the Marsden Point oil refinery that doesn’t do any refining these days because, as you’ll remember, it was shut down in April last year by its private owner which, back then, was known as Refining NZ. These days it’s known as Channel Infrastructure.

240 jobs went in the process and, ever since, the closure has been blamed for all sorts of things from high fuel prices to cruddy roads.

That’s because, when it was operating, Marsden Point produced about 70 percent of the bitumen used in New Zealand for roads. Now we have to import 100 percent of the bitumen we need.

And we seem to think that the stuff from overseas is second-rate, which is why Marsden Point always comes up when we’re talking about potholes.

And, of course, we now also import all our refined fuel. Because we don’t have a functioning refinery here.

So, prior to the election, NZ First picked up on all this talk about Marsden Point and, as part of its deal with National, the coalition government is going to investigate re-opening it.

Which I predict will mean a truckload of time and taxpayer money going into something that will go nowhere. It will come to nothing.

That’s because the people who know a thing-or-two about running Marsden Point are saying today that it would cost billions to get it up and running again because there is nothing there that can just be plugged-in and cranked up again.

“There is no part of the former refinery that can be restarted.” That’s a direct quote from the person speaking on behalf of the owner.

They’re saying they haven’t done costings but expect it would be billions and it would take a number of years.

So, as far as I’m concerned, that horse has bolted and we need to forget about having an oil refinery here.

Perhaps if there’s one thing the former government can be criticised for when it comes to Marsden Point, is whether or not it did enough to keep it going.

We all know how the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter is pretty much only operating because the owners get big power discounts. So maybe that’s somewhere where Labour did drop the ball, and perhaps it could have done more to keep Marsden Point operating.

Because the reason why it was closed in the first place is that the fuel companies - which were shareholders in the refinery - thought it would be more cost-effective for them to import pre-refined petrol and diesel, instead of doing it here.

So maybe the former government could have done something to make it more attractive to keep it going. In fact, former energy minister Megan Woods did float the idea of saving the refinery by underwriting its operations for up to 10 years, but her Cabinet colleagues weren’t up for it.

So that didn’t happen. The refinery is now closed. And I just think we have to get over it and I think the Government needs to drop this idea of looking into re-opening it.

Because, if the people who know a thing-or-two about running a refinery think it’s a stupid idea, then who am I going to listen to? The people who know what they’re on about? Or a politician who has heard a bit of noise and reckons there might be some political mileage in it?

I’ll go with the refinery experts any day, thanks. And I think the government should do the same.

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