Deep sea industries face new environmental regime
By Pattrick Smellie
Aug. 24 (BusinessDesk) – Development of resources in New Zealand’s deepwater Exclusive Economic Zone will require environmental assessments from now on and deep sea drilling will have to comply with new safety rules developed after last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil-spill.
The interim measures were announced by Environment Minister Nick Smith as he introduced long-awaited legislation to Parliament to govern environmental impacts in the EEZ and the Extended Continental Shelf, both of which extend 200 kilometres from New Zealand territory.
Scheduled to be in force by next July, the new law may also be accompanied by requirements on oil and gas explorers to take out higher liability insurance than the currently required level of $30 million.
The moves were welcomed by the Environmental Defence Society and the minerals lobby group Straterra, but derided by the Green Party for assisting dangerous extractive industries that contribute to climate change.
“This legislation puts in place a robust system of environmental controls for the huge ocean and seabed area 20 times that of New Zealand’s landmass that is currently unregulated,” said Smith. “This is about ensuring that New Zealand is environmentally responsible in taking up the significant economic opportunities in our EEZ and ECS.”
The Bill makes the new Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) responsible for consenting, monitoring and enforcing activities with environmental impacts, like oil exploration, seabed mining, deepwater aquaculture and marine energy development.
It also requires public consultation on regulations and consents and enables activities to be classified as permitted, discretionary or prohibited.
They follow last week’s announcement that a High Hazards Unit will be established in the Department of Labour, in response both to public anxiety about underground coal-mining safety following the Pike River coal disaster, and the dangers of deep-sea drilling following last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, which killed workers and spilt millions of litres of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
"The bill establishes a framework for regulations that will classify activities as permitted, discretionary or prohibited,” said EDS executive director Gary Taylor, a prime mover in getting the EEZ legislation under way. “If the regulatory settings are right, this should mean that activities that carry significant and unacceptable environmental risks would not get consent.
"The bill sets out decision-making criteria that include recognising biological values and requires decision-makers to take a precautionary approach when information is limited.
"Any significant proposals will be subject to full public hearings.”
Straterra’s Chris Baker welcomed the legislation, saying “in the majority of cases the effects of development on the environment can be managed in a sustainable way.”
“Properly encouraged and managed, New Zealand’s ocean resources could make a significant contribution to the national economy over time.”