Public Consent to Offshore Oil Exploration in New Zealand Opposed

Publicly approvals must not be mandatory for offshore exploration inside the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of New Zealand, said the country’s Petroleum Exploration and Production Association.

As a response to news that Environment Minister Amy Adams wasn’t excluding permission requirements in rules regarding deepwater oil drilling in the EEZ, the Green Party heavily criticized the government. The Greens were seeking an immediate ban on any drilling more than 500 meters deep.

The Gulf of Mexico’s Deepwater Horizon rig disaster in 2010, amounting to about $NZ46.3 billion in compensation and clean-up costs, occurred at a depth of 1500 meters, stirring widespread concern from the public regarding the risk of oil drilling.

But according to David Robinson, the chief executive of the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association, the topography of the seabed of New Zealand was totally different from the Gulf of Mexico. ┬áHe also noted that the Canterbury Basin and the Great South Basin – that may soon receive a drill ship for oil exploration – were potentially better prospect for gas than for oil.

The chief executive said that even if an oil drilling program posed a residual risk, New Zealand will not likely have any drilling issues on its coastlines. The risk mitigation was likened by Robinson to the country’s airline industry: even with the occasional crashing of commercial aircraft; the industry is still able to maintain its highest possible safety standard.

He rejected suggestions that requiring public consent was a means of reassuring them on environmental and safety concerns. He said plenty of regulations already exist under the new legislation of the EEZ and the Resource Management Act. Further, the oil and gas exploration industry is already highly regulated.

Drilling in Taranaki had been operating safely for many years without requiring permits, and the EEZ must be covered in the same way, without needing consents.

The government is about to make a decision as to which offshore activities will be restricted and will not be permitted and which need public consent or may be allowed within stated regulations under the recently passed Environmental Effects Act in the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf.

According to Mr. Robinson, people don’t understand that the risk of deepwater oil drilling is no different than when performed in shallow depths.

By: Chris Termeer