Oil and gas drilling in Hawke's Bay could be prohibited in certain areas, a Hawke's Bay Regional Council committee agreed this week.
At their inaugural meeting earlier this month, the new regional council requested the Regional Planning Committee consider proposing such a plan change to the Regional Resource Management Plan (RRMP).
Although the committee could not decide to prohibit the activity at yesterday's meeting, it did move to progress with a ban on oil and gas exploration within productive aquifers, aquifer recharge zones and surface water bodies through a standalone plan change spanning the whole region.
This was not a total ban, but chairman Rex Graham said this was a "step in the right direction, and a step many in our community have asked for".
As well as hearing opinions from councillors on the matter, Mr Graham asked for views from the Tangata Whenua group representatives.
Most spoke of their support for progressing a plan change, citing issues around environmental protection, oil being a "sunset industry", and the impact a spill could have on the region's waterways.
After being presented with three options, the committee voted to progress on a stand-alone plan change.
A document presented to the committee stated preparation of this process would require significant resource, and the council did not have the staff resources to carry this out, meaning most of the work would need to be contracted out.
Although this option could be quicker, it was likely to be more costly. Aside from engaging a contractor, the process was estimated to cost between $100,000 and $150,000 for legal and technical advice, consultation, analysing submissions, and public hearings.
Although councillor Tom Belford expressed the view Hawke's Bay should not be involved in the industry, "in any way, shape, or form", he had concerns this plan change would take resources from more time-dependent programmes.
That was part of the reservations held by councillor Fenton Wilson, one of two who voted against the motion.
"We start spending money on this tomorrow if we push the button," he said, "and it's going to start eating a whole lot of other programmes, there's just no getting around that.
"We're fighting this fight as we've just heard with ratepayers' money, hard earned ratepayers' money and the chances of success are slim to nothing, so I can't support it."
The committee had been presented with three options for progressing with a plan change - this was the only available course of action, because a moratorium, or temporary prohibition could not be created under the Resource Management Act (RMA).
These were to progress through the TANK plan change for TANK catchments, then other catchment-based plan changes as developed, or to progress a region-wide prohibition alongside the TANK plan change, meaning "timelines are run in parallel, but content is mutually independent".
On Wednesday the committee recommended the council ask staff to report back on the process involved in the plan change and the legal advice it receives early next year.
In a separate item, the committee discussed an HBRC submission to a branch of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, on the Block Offer 2017 process.
This is a process through which the Government seeks to attract companies for petroleum exploration in designated blocks around the country - including offshore of Hawke's Bay.
HBRC requested a proposed block, which included acreage inside the council's jurisdiction, be excluded from the block offer. In previous years, the council made submissions relating to the exclusion of the region's productive aquifers.