OMV said it expects official action against two Extinction Rebellion protesters who boarded a drilling rig in the Marlborough Sounds late yesterday.
The pair, Siana Fitzjohn and Nick Hanafin, secured themselves to the side of the drilling rig COSL Prospector as part of the group's campaign against any form of oil and gas exploration.
Overnight, medics and safety experts were lowered to check their well-being, OMV said. As weather conditions deteriorated, they abandoned their position and were given accommodation, food and medical support on board the rig.
Gabriel Selischi, OMV's senior vice-president for Australasia, said the firm respected people's right to protest. But he said the illegal boarding had been pre-planned, had put the safety of OMV staff and contractors at risk, and had required the diversion of considerable resources to ensure their safety.
"Given the clear illegal nature of this action, OMV will be issuing trespass notices and expects regulators and relevant New Zealand authorities to take further action against the individuals involved."
The incident comes 18 months after Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman and fellow activist Sara Howell escaped conviction for their part in an offshore protest which interrupted a seismic survey off the Wairarapa coast in April 2017.
That was the first prosecution under a 2013 amendment to the Crown Minerals Act which made it an offence to interfere with the operations of vessels undertaking exploration work. In that case, they had repeatedly entered the water ahead of the 21,000 tonne Amazon Warrior, forcing it to stop work and change direction.
Norman and Howell were discharged by Judge Arthur Tompkins who said conviction would be disproportionate given the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had offered diversion to a third protester for the same incident.
The duo – both Greenpeace employees - had only changed their plea to guilty after MBIE dropped two charges against Greenpeace NZ. The organisation could have faced $200,000 in fines. Individuals can be fined $50,000 or be jailed for up to a year.
Greenpeace, which regularly assists other environmental groups in their protests against oil and gas exploration, events and conferences, was not listed by Oil Free Otago yesterday among the groups participating in yesterday's boarding.
In November, it organised the occupation of the COSL Prospector's support vessel, the Skandi Atlantic, while it was in port at Timaru. In July, Greenpeace named Hanafin as one of two of its activists who had scaled the outside of Wellington's Majestic Centre where OMV has its offices.
BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope called yesterday's boarding illegal, highly irresponsible and dangerous, and said the pressure groups involved should be held to account.
He said there was a growing trend of non-governmental organisations disrupting firms carrying out their lawful activities with increasingly risky publicity stunts.
"It is a matter of if, not when, one of these publicity stunts goes wrong and causes serious injury or death," he said in a statement.
"Those in charge of NGOs need to be held accountable for health and safety like every other Kiwi business owner is."
OMV, New Zealand's biggest gas producer, has contracted the rig to drill four wells as it seeks a long-term replacement for the country's declining gas reserves.
The first two wells – off Taranaki and the Otago coast – were both dry. Two further wells are planned off Taranaki, including a well about six kilometres south-west of the Maui A platform.
New Zealand's biggest gas field is nearing exhaustion after 40 years' production. OMV is spending about $500 million looking at ways to extend its production and that of the younger Pohokura field further north.
Oil Free Otago yesterday said the atmosphere couldn't afford any more oil and gas production if the climate was to remain liveable. Firms like OMV were driving the earth toward "mass extinction," it said.
Gas accounts for about 20 per cent of New Zealand's primary energy supply and is an important fuel for industry, petrochemical exports and power generation.
In November, the International Energy Agency projected that world gas production in 2040 would still be close to current levels as countries used more of it to displace higher-emitting coal and oil.
The agency's scenario, consistent with limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees, projected a 60 per cent reduction in global coal use and that oil use would fall by a third. Renewable power generation would triple and nuclear generation would increase by 62 per cent over the same time period.