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Green lobby cries foul on draft EEZ oil exploration rules

Green lobby cries foul on draft EEZ oil exploration rules

Dec. 13 (BusinessDesk) – The government is ploughing ahead with proposals that would continue to shield deep-sea oil explorers from public scrutiny of their plans to drill exploration wells in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

Environment Minister Amy Adams has released draft regulations governing the EEZ to replace the transitional arrangements which are currently in place, and which saw Texan oil and gas explorer Anadarko granted an exploration licence without requiring public notification or hearings.

The move has angered the Environmental Defence Society, which says Prime Minister John Key had indicated that the non-notifiable status of EEZ oil exploration activity was unlikely to be retained.

“We understood, following a meeting with the Prime Minister, that the Government was considering a different and more robust approach to these regulations,” said EDS chairman Gary Taylor in a statement.

“But the regulations are unchanged from what was originally proposed and give oil and gas exploration drilling an easy pathway to approval.

“There will be no notification of applications for oil and gas exploratory drilling, no public hearing, no rights to cross-examine applicants on their track record and no ability to bring expert evidence on the adequacy or otherwise of spill mitigation measures.

“Instead, we will have to rely on the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to properly assess applications behind closed doors and with no transparency whatsoever. This is poor process and is even more extraordinary in light of the high risks associated with deep-sea exploratory drilling.

“The EPA, in administering the current legal regime, which is itself inadequate, has yet to demonstrate its competence.”

Greenpeace New Zealand is seeking a judicial review of the process the EPA followed to allow Anadarko to drill exploration wells in a deep-sea Taranaki prospect, currently under way, and a second well early next year in the EEZ off the Canterbury coast.

The new regulations put meat on the bones of new legislation governing economic activity in the EEZ, which extends from the 12 nautical mile coastal waters limit, where existing resource management and environmental law operates, out to 200 kilometres from the coast. Activity in the EEZ has not previously been regulated.

The draft regulations propose classifying exploratory drilling for oil and gas as a non-notified discretionary activity, meaning the EPA still has to decide whether or not to issue a permit for exploration to occur, but does not have to seek public views.

That is largely because exploratory drilling is far lower risk than, for example, establishing oil and gas production wells, potentially making public hearings on applications to explore unnecessarily time-consuming and expensive.

“The proposed non-notified discretionary classification appears to be the pragmatic option for these activities, and would provide a level of regulation proportionate to their effects,” said Adams in a statement. “It would provide effective oversight and environmental safeguards without burdening industry with excessive costs and timeframes."

Public submissions on the proposed regulations are due by Jan. 31.

Under the EEZ Act, activities may be classified as permitted, discretionary, non-notified discretionary or prohibited.

(BusinessDesk)

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