Deep-sea oil exploration resource consent applications won't require public hearings, but will not be automatically ticked through, Environment Minister Amy Adams has announced.
The decision over-rides the objections of environmental groups, who wanted all deep-sea drilling to be notified for public input, but which offshore drillers say would add time and complexity that could stifle a low-risk activity.
However, exploration applications will be treated as "discretionary" rather than "permitted" activities.
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Oil and gas explorers seeking to drill production wells would be required to seek resource consents from the Environmental Protection Authority under the new regulations governing the Exclusive Economic Zone, since they would be long-lasting installations and carry higher risks of environmental impact.
"The non-notified discretionary classification is the pragmatic option for exploratory drilling, and will provide a level of regulation proportionate to its effects," Adams said in a statement. "The classification will provide effective oversight and environmental safeguards without burdening industry with excessive costs and timeframes."
As a distant location with relatively small amounts of offshore oil and gas exploration, explorers must book their high-cost drilling rigs in available "windows" of time, which could easily be disrupted by the potential unpredictability of consenting processes.
Exploratory drilling generally lasts only a matter of weeks.
"The EPA will fully assess the effects of the activity on the environment and existing interests," said Adams. "If a marine consent is granted, the EPA can impose such conditions as it thinks necessary to properly manage any adverse effects of the activity.
"Obtaining a marine consent to drill an exploratory well does not give the consent holder the right to begin producing oil or gas."
The decision follows a seven-week consultation period, with the new regulations in effect from Feb 28.