Activities involved in exploratory drilling for oil and gas in New Zealand will be classified as non-notified discretionary under new EEZ Act regulations, Environment Minister Amy Adams announced yesterday.
According to Radio New Zealand, the new regulation means that the public will not be able to have a say on applications to explore for oil and gas in the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Minister Adams said: “The non-notified discretionary classification is the pragmatic option for exploratory drilling, and will provide a level of regulation proportionate to its effects,” Ms Adams says. “This is part of the National-led Government’s overhaul of the laws and regulations governing the oil and gas industry.
“The classification will provide effective oversight and environmental safeguards without burdening industry with excessive costs and timeframes.”
Exploratory drilling is the drilling of an offshore well to identify oil or gas deposits under the seafloor, and to evaluate whether they would be suitable for production. As part of the marine consent application, operators will need to submit an impact assessment that identifies impacts on the environment and existing interests. The impact assessment must describe any consultation undertaken with people identified as existing interests. The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) will fully assess the effects of the activity on the environment and existing interests.
If a marine consent is granted, the EPA can impose such conditions as it thinks necessary to properly manage any adverse effects of the activity. Obtaining a marine consent to drill an exploratory well does not give the consent holder the right to begin producing oil or gas.
Separate consent for production
The operator would need to apply for a separate, discretionary marine consent before any production activities could take place. During this stage, the public would have the opportunity to make submissions on the proposed activities.
The decision for activities involved in exploratory drilling for oil and gas to be classified as non-notified discretionary follows a seven week consultation period on the draft regulations from 12 December 2013 to 31 January 2014. Public consultation on the regulation of activities involved in exploratory drilling also occurred during August and September last year. The new regulations come into effect on 28 February 2014. The EEZ Act came into force on 28 June 2013, bringing a comprehensive approach to managing activities in the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. Under the EEZ Act, activities can be classified as permitted, discretionary, non-notified discretionary or prohibited.
Greenpeace: A cowardly move
Responding to news Steve Abel, Greenpeace’s energy campaigner, said: “This is a cowardly move from a Government doing the bidding of foreign oil companies. This announcement is a slap in the face for anyone who wants their kids to swim in clean seas, for whom fishing is a way of life, and who believes in our right to have a say. It strips away the chance for New Zealanders to protest about the most dangerous stage of oil drilling.”
“The Government are little more than lackeys for the oil industry. A government who wanted to see our economy boosted by billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs would turn their backs on this outdated industry and back our own, cutting-edge clean energy industry instead.”
Green Party energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes commented: “The Government legislated to stop people voicing their opposition at sea, and now they are locking them out on land.”
“New Zealanders should get a say on proposals for risky deep sea drilling because the consequences of a spill will affect everyone,” he added.
Issue oriented groups
A report issued by a major New Zealand law firm Belly Gully last year, offers an interesting view. They said the regulation would reduce the ability for issue-motivated groups or those with an ideological objection to offshore exploration activity to delay, frustrate or create unnecessary costs for operators by uninformed or emotive participation in the marine consenting process or court proceedings.
“Given the highly technical nature of the matters the EPA will likely consider at any hearing on a marine consent application, it is hard to see what meaningful substantive input an issue-motivated group can have on the merits of the matters being considered,” the Belly Gully release, issued in September last year, said.
“There is no doubt that the proposals to amend the Marine Legislation Bill will not be satisfactory to everyone – and we have already seen the Environmental Defence Society issue a press release complaining about the public consultation process and that the outcome has been pre-determined. Notwithstanding any such objections, it is clearly the case that it is in everyone’s interests – the Government, the petroleum sector and environmental lobby groups – for there to be appropriately rigorous scrutiny of marine consent applications and associated EIAs. And one expects that is precisely what the EPA will do,” Belly Gully release concluded.
EPA can seek public input
Responding to the claims that the public will now be able to voice its opinion, Environment Minister Amy Adams said: “Under this Government, the public will for the first time get a chance to have a say. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can call for submissions from the public prior to granting a consent for exploratory drilling, if the EPA feels it is required. And before any production drilling can take place, a full public process must be held.
“This means before an oil company can make a single dollar of profit, they have to go in front of the people of New Zealand and make sure everyone has a say in the full process.”