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stuff.co.nz: Shell overlooks our oil contribution

Taranaki | Monday, 3 September 2007

At either end of SH43 – Taranaki’s eastern highway link – there are signs warning motorists there is no fuel to be purchased for 150 kilometres, the Taranaki Daily News writes.

It’s not called the Forgotten World Highway for nothing, because not only is there little but scenery and a few villages along that route, but also there are no service stations to slake the thirsts of fuel-starved motor vehicles.

Up until now there has been general acceptance there are no fuel bowsers anywhere along SH43, because the commercial reality is that population levels and traffic numbers way out there in eastern Taranaki aren’t enough to warrant a service station.

And anyway, up until now it has been a matter of choice to head in or out of Taranaki along that route, as an alternative to the better-serviced drive along the region’s northern highway link, SH3.

But now Taranaki faces the prospect of that choice becoming considerably more difficult. That’s because petroleum giant Shell has decided a popular little service station at Awakino doesn’t meet the requirements of its financial model for such garages in New Zealand, and has ruled that from November 30 it will no longer provide it with petrol or diesel.

For Taranaki, this decision is disastrous. Already the northern highway route carries a reputation of being not much better than a motoring version of a goat-track, and for years the region’s civic leaders have been battling for much-needed improvements.

Now, just when the region has been getting somewhere, it suddenly faces the prospect of the highway not having any fuel stops between Urenui and Piopio – a distance of 110 kilometres.

How embarrassing is it going to be, and what effect is it going to have on our tourism prospects when two of Taranaki’s three highway links will now have to feature signs warning that there’s no fuel to be purchased?

Frankly, in the eyes of the rest of New Zealand it will position Taranaki as an isolated and backward region sadly lacking in modern infrastructure.

In a classic case of corporate arrogance, Shell New Zealand is saying its decision not to renew the supply contract for Awakino’s Junction Service Station is not preventing any other fuel company from picking up the supply contract.

All that has to happen, it says, is for the station’s owners to purchase the two underground tanks that are used to store the fuel.

What Shell isn’t having a bar of is any suggestion it is walking away from a corporate moral requirement to provide public refuelling facilities at regular intervals along New Zealand’s highway network. Instead it is maintaining its right to pull the plug on any supply contract that doesn’t meet the terms of its financial modelling, without needing to factor in any consequences left behind in the communities it walks away from.

There’s a massive irony in Shell’s decision to dump Awakino from its service station network. SH3 is the northern entrance to a part of New Zealand that for years has supplied all the oil and gas that has contributed to Shell becoming one of the 10 most profitable companies in New Zealand. In return, it seems very much a case of `Thanks for nothing, Shell.’

http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/dailynews/4187802a6552.html

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