Environment Minister Nick Smith this morning said new environmental protection laws dealing with New Zealand's exclusive economic zone, much of which is earmarked for oil exploration, will come into effect in July next year.
Dr Smith's announcement comes just a few weeks after Navy and the Police arrested protesters who were disrupting Brazilian company Petrobras' exploration activity in the Raukumara basin which lies within the EEZ off East Cape.
The new law will make the Environmental Protection Authority responsible for issuing consents, monitoring and enforcement of activities within the EEZ which lies from 12km to 200km offshore and the Extended Continental Shelf, which extends beyond the EEZ.
"This area of ocean, 20 times New Zealand's land area offers significant economic opportunities, but we must also ensure we have robust laws in place to protect the environment," said Dr Smith.
The Government has faced criticism from the Greens and environmental groups for allowing Petrobras to go ahead with its exploration activity, which may include drilling in very deep water as well as seismic survey work, without having applicable environmental protection in place.
Dr Smith said seismic survey work - which some claim harms marine life - was likely to be "permitted" under the new law and would therefore not require consent. However it would be governed by regulations setting out how it could be conducted.
The regulations would go out for public consultation and would replace the existing guidelines "that are unenforceable".
"More extensive exploration such as drilling would require a consent, assessment of environmental impacts, public notification and opportunities for communities to have their say."