Prohibiting oil and gas exploration in Hawke's Bay is expected to be "a hell of a fight" with the petroleum sector, a Hawke's Bay Regional Planning Committee heard yesterday.

Last year the Hawke's Bay Regional Council agreed to progress a prohibition of oil and gas exploration activities within productive aquifers, aquifer recharge zones and surface water bodies through a standalone plan change.

Recently received preliminary draft legal advice indicates the council would be empowered under the Resource Management Act (RMA) to proceed with such a plan change provided it has clear, robust justifications and evidence to do so.

However, due to the breadth of the proposed prohibition and precedent this would set, it is expected to be contested by the oil and gas sector.

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Yesterday strategic development group manager James Palmer stated the sector had "taken great notice" of their actions on this matter - so much so council were expecting a visit from the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association New Zealand in the coming weeks - to understand what was proposed, and why.

He warned the committee the plan change process would be long, and costly.

"This will be a hell of a fight. It's going to be really expensive, it's going to be litigated to hell and it'll be drawn out," Mr Palmer told the committee.

"I'm not saying it's any reason not to do it, the values of the community you represent at this table have been really clear and quite strong."

He said the sector had not previously contested the council prohibiting such activities in certain areas, however the wider the prohibition meant "the precedent just gets bigger and bigger".

This meant there was a lot at stake for the sector, Mr Palmer said, and he expected them to be very active throughout the process.

A paper before council noted the plan change would have "direct implications" on current budget finances or resources. There was approximately $150,000 set aside in the budget for carrying out such a plan change.

Councillor Fenton Wilson queried whether the process could result in a "seven figure" cost.

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While Mr Palmer said it was hard to estimate at this stage, the council was looking at an expenditure of "some hundreds of thousands of dollars".

Chairman Rex Graham said the council knew their course of action would be controversial, but felt they would make a stand and not be intimidated by perceived threats from outside the region.

"There might be a cost to standing our ground, and we will face that when that comes to it but we have very strong community support on this and we should carry on."

Yesterday the committee also discussed genetically modified organisms (GMOs) - last year councillor Paul Bailey raised the possibility of a moratorium on their release.

Under the RMA the council could only designate certain activities as prohibited through a change to the Regional Resource Management Plan (RRMP).

A paper before council noted there was currently no provision for preparing a plan change to regulate GMOs. The committee also heard there were currently three court proceedings under way on the authority of regional councils relating to GMO regulation.

The committee recommended the council signal its intent to take a precautionary approach to the matter, pending the outcome of several court cases elsewhere in New Zealand.

Both matters go to the full council for confirmation on March 29.