New rules for ocean oil exploration

The rules for oil and gas drilling in New Zealand's ocean territory have been tightened up. File photo / NZ Herald
The rules for oil and gas drilling in New Zealand's ocean territory have been tightened up. File photo / NZ Herald

Environmental impact assessments will have to be submitted to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) from today for oil and gas drilling in New Zealand's ocean territory, the Government has announced.

Operators will also need to comply with the latest drilling safety rules developed in the United States following the inquiries into the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said the rules were interim measures until new legislation was enacted.

He has introduced a bill to Parliament to manage the environmental effects of activities in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Extended Continental Shelf (ECS).

It will have its first reading next month, go to a select committee for public submissions, and be passed in the first half of next year, if National wins the November election.

Opposition parties have been pressing for rules around oil exploration and Dr Smith said his bill was part of the Government's agenda to grow the economy while ensuring the environment was protected.

"This legislation puts in place a robust system of environmental controls for the huge ocean and seabed area 20 times that of New Zealand's landmass that is currently unregulated," Dr Smith said.

"This is about ensuring that New Zealand is environmentally responsible in taking up the significant economic opportunities in our EEZ and ECS."

The bill makes the EPA responsible for consenting, monitoring and enforcement of activities that impact on the environment like oil exploration, seabed mining, deepwater aquaculture and marine energy development.

It requires public consultation on regulations and consents and enables activities to be classified as permitted, discretionary or prohibited.

The new law is intended to come into effect on July 1 next year.

Dr Smith said the measures he was taking complemented last week's announcement of a High Hazards Unit with four inspectors specifically for the petroleum industry.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce was also reviewing the liability insurance requirements for the industry and was looking to raise the current level of $30 million, he said.

The EEZ is the area of sea and seabed from 12 to 200 nautical miles offshore over which New Zealand has jurisdiction. At 400 million hectares, it is one of the largest in the world.

The ECS is New Zealand's submerged landmass where it extends beyond the EEZ, and covers about 170 million hectares.

- NZPA

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