A Norwegian oil executive was surprised and confused when a protester overturned tables at a hui discussing his company's exploration plans, but says he did not fear for his safety.

Representatives of the oil firm Statoil were to have spoken at a public meeting at Kaitaia's Te Ahu Centre on Monday, but it was cut short after an anti-drilling protester pushed their tables over.

Pal Haremo, Statoil's vice-president (exploration), said the meeting had been organised by Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi to discuss the firm's plans in the Reinga Basin off Northland's west coast.

Mr Haremo said he had hoped to listen to opinions, answer questions, find out about any sacred places in the exploration area, and discuss risks to marine mammals and beaches. He also wanted to learn about Mr Piripi's request for iwi-led moderation of seismic testing.


However, Mr Haremo said he had no chance to discuss those issues. He listened to opinions from iwi and hapu, then the table-turning protest cut the meeting short.

He found it hard to grasp what had happened and why. He already knew Kiwis cared about their environment - that had been clear from the June 9 hui in Kaitaia - but was surprised by the "physical part, the turning of the tables".

However, he had learned he would have to talk with all iwi, at hapu level, and was more convinced than ever that communication would be the key tothe company's success.

The strength of opposition to seismic testing had also come as a surprise because oil drilling had previously been the main concern of iwi. In 40 years of exploring. Statoil had not recorded any permanent damage to marine mammals caused by seismic testing, he said.

The hui had also taught him the company had not communicated as well as it could have about the potential benefits.

However, at this early stage it could not promise thousands of jobs: "It's a long-term thing, we don't want to go in with big words and big promises."

Statoil had not given up on public meetings, he said.

"As long as we feel we can have constructive meetings, and we are safe, we will continue to try to consult. I think we have a very good case to explain that it's sustainable. I come from a county that has beautiful nature, beaches and marine mammals as well, so I can understand [concerns] but I'm a little confused about not letting information flow."