The oil and gas sector has taken exception to Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage’s framing of the rules around seismic surveys as a voluntary, informal process.
Last week Energy and Environment reported Sage’s comments as she down the implications of a proposed Marine Mammals Protection Seismic Surveying Bill.
The Government has said it will not allow any new oil and gas exploration permits, but pointed to the existing permits as a potential source of new supply for the sector. National MPs have raised the potential that the Bill might put in place more restrictions to seismic surveys. This could limit explorers’ ability to perform their work and at the very least would be another chilling effect on their activities.
Sage said this was not the intention. There has been some policy work done on formalising the currently voluntary process in the territorial sea around marine seismic surveys. In 2013 as part of the review of the Māui's dolphin threat management plan, “the former Minister of Conservation agreed that a process should be initiated to regulate seismic surveying by incorporating the code of conduct in regulations made under the Marine Mammals Protection Act.”
Nothing had come of this and a voluntary code of conduct has been in place. Sage said “there is no formal permit process. If that was formalised, it would give certainty to the industry that they were doing legal activities and it would give certainty to the public that marine mammals were being protected.”
A spokesman for PEPANZ said “This is not quite correct. There is a Code of Conduct for Minimising Acoustic Disturbance to Marine Mammals from Seismic Survey Operations which has legislative effect as seismic surveys are a permitted activity in the EEZ, provided the Code is complied with.”
A relevant permit is also required from NZ Petroleum & Minerals and a Marine Mammal Impact Assessment must be approved by DoC. The EPA is then responsible for monitoring surveys within the EEZ to determine compliance with the Code.
“Along with these regulatory requirements, the overall approach taken by operators is highly precautionary. Great care is taken to avoid disturbing marine mammals, including pre-start observation which takes 30 minutes to 2 hours (depending on the context) prior to activation of the sound source with no marine mammals seen in the mitigation zones. Soft starts are used through the increase of the sound source volume from a low level up to full power over 20+ minutes.
“All survey vessels use Passive Acoustic Monitoring systems (PAM) which operate 24 hours a day to detect and track marine mammals like whales and dolphins, and there are also two independent visual observers onboard every vessel. Operations are stopped immediately if any mammals of concern (including most whales) come within one and a half kilometres of the vessel. The mitigation zone is 200 metres for other marine mammals.”
Article originally published in the NZ Energy and Environment Business Alert on May 16.
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