Shell NZ chairman says it's `fair and reasonable' to question, but New Zealand has a 50-year good safety record.

Veteran New Zealand oilman Rob Jager says he can understand concern over deep water drilling off New Zealand's coast.

Jager, Shell New Zealand's chairman, said the protest at Anadarko's exploration off the North Island west coast was part of "fair and reasonable" questioning of drilling after the Deepwater Horizon explosion at the Macondo prospect in the Gulf of Mexico three years ago.

"Like everyone else on the street I'm as interested about the environment and that we do understand the risks and how they're being managed and make informed decisions about that."

Jager has been involved in the oil industry for 36 years and Shell has been involved in offshore projects for a decade or so longer.


But it did not attract the same attention as Anadarko is receiving now.

"The reason deep water drilling is in the limelight is that people link it to something like a Macondo," Jaeger said.

But drilling had been going on in Taranaki for 50 years.

Jager said the track record of companies around New Zealand had been solid, but drilling would never be risk-free.

"Regrettably there's nothing in life that is risk-free, it's how we manage it," he said.

"It's equally not just about the benefits - we've got to be careful to say that it's all okay because of the benefits."

Greenpeace energy campaigner Steve Abel said New Zealand should be pursuing a more sustainable energy future, and is worried about the effect of any oil exploration on land or at sea.

Anadarko was the focus of the current campaign because risks of an environmental disaster increased markedly in deeper water.


'This is an industry we need to be winding down rather than winding up," he said.

An Arctic-bound Shell drill ship was targeted by activists at Port Taranaki last year, and Abel said deep water drilling by any company could attract protests.

Jager said his company had been involved in the big offshore Maui field for more than 30 years.

It was continuing to drill there for pockets of bypass, and would drill in new prospects nearby in the middle of next year.

It will decide in January whether to drill wildcat wells in the Great South Basin after assessing seismic data.

With Shell's activity, OMV and New Zealand Oil & Gas' programmes off Taranaki and Anadarko's programme off Raglan and then off the Canterbury coast, it is shaping up as one of the busiest summers in a country that has been only lightly explored.

"I think we're fortunate in that we've been able to attract some activity to New Zealand, they're exciting times," said Jager.

He chaired an independent taskforce on workplace health and safety, and this year released findings saying big changes were needed in the existing system to save lives.

Now, he says, changes being made are going in the right direction, and in the oil and gas industry fitted the environmental aims.

"Health and safety and the environment go hand and hand," he said. "Keeping the gas in the pipe and stopping people from getting injured - it's all part of the same approach for us."