EEZ law too inflexible for ocean oil wells, says law expert
By Pattrick Smellie
March 22 (BusinessDesk) – The draft legislation covering New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone is not up to the task because it doesn’t take account of the way that deep-sea oil and gas drilling plans can change and develop, a Waikato University environmental law specialist says.
Giving evidence to Parliament’s local government and environment select committee, Professor Barry Barton said the new regime should constitute a “first line of defence” to ensure wells were properly managed.
“I looked to the Bill as to how adequately it deals with this, and the answer is ‘not at all’,” said Barton, who is director at the university’s Centre for Environmental, Resources and Energy Law.
For starters, it lacked a specific authority to create regulations to deal with deep sea oil drilling, but even if it did, regulations were too prescriptive to be a practical way to manage offshore drilling because they over-rode professional judgement about best courses of action in particular circumstances.
A similar problem existed with putting drilling conditions into marine consents that would be issued under the new regime, because changing conditions in resource consents was typically a prolonged process, ill-suited to operating in remote offshore locations.
For example, a company might drill a first well and decide, based on that experience, that further wells should employ different technology.
“Each well will have characteristics which aren’t known in advance,” said Barton. “You can’t give the detail of a well before knowing what you are drilling in.”
“If successful, a company will drill a series of wells. As it drills, that will influence their judgement for the rest of the programme”, including dealing with geo-physical challenges encountered in the course of drilling.
Barton also questioned the institutional capacity of regional councils to deal with applications for consents relating to deep sea or offshore resources.