An oil and gas industry leader was met with fierce questioning this week when presenting to a Hawke's Bay Regional Council committee on a proposed prohibition of oil and gas activities.
Since late 2016 the regional council have been exploring a stand-alone plan change which would prohibit oil and gas exploration activities in certain areas on land, and possibly in the coastal marine area.
This week its regional planning committee was updated on the work done so far, with a number of oil and gas opponents in the audience, before presentations from advocates, and opponents of the industry.
One was Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of NZ (PEPANZ) chief executive Cameron Madgwick, who met with and sent letters to the regional council last year arguing against their proposed actions.
Councillors had previously been warned the oil and gas industry could sink a million dollars into opposing the plan change, meaning the regional council was likely to be "outgunned" in any battle.
The wider the prohibition zones, "the more it sets a precedent for the oil and gas sector nationally, and the more willing they may be to invest heavily in their defence".
Yesterday, Mr Madgwick outlined for the committee how the operation in Taranaki worked, and steps taken by that regional council could be employed in Hawke's Bay.
With concern voiced about the impact of drilling near aquifers, he said the industry did not drill near water bodies, which had multiple barriers of protection anyway.
He also disputed conceptions about the visual impact of their industry, arguing it had an "incredibly small footprint". He acknowledged their industry was a contributor to climate change, "but it's also part of the solution as gas has half the emissions of coal".
However, he faced questioning from several councillors about the responsibility of the industry if an exploration accident were to occur, and was called "disingenuous" by councillor Paul Bailey over his climate change comments.
A number of his points raised in correspondence with the council were also disputed in a paper before the committee.
He had argued a prohibited activity status was considered "neither required nor appropriate" to manage the effects of oil and gas exploration and production.
There could be "discrete" areas where oil and gas activities could "sensibly" be
prohibited, but in other areas each proposal should be assessed on its own case-by-case
In response, council staff said a prohibited activity status was "entirely legitimate". Assessment on a case-by-case basis would already occur under the current resource consent application process rules.
Eco Management Group's Walter Breustedt also spoke yesterday, with examples of risks caused by oil and gas activities, from both overseas and in New Zealand.
He noted there were three incidents in Taranaki between 1995 and 2012 – a blowout, groundwater contamination, and crude oil leakage into a stream.
In November the council began meeting with stakeholders about the proposed plan change, with pre-consultation hui being planned around the region. It is expected the next steps of the plan change will be brought back to council mid-year.
This comes as the Government signals it will consider how to deal with future block offers - when oil companies annually tender to conduct oil and gas exploration in designated blocks around the country.
During the Government's 2017 block offer, 5569sq km of Hawke's Bay's offshore marine area was released for bids for gas and oil exploration activities.