The Law Society has backed criticism of the Government's plan to regulate deep-sea oil drilling and other potentially hazardous offshore activities as lacking adequate environmental protection and inconsistent with international law.

Parliament's local government and environment committee has been hearing submissions on the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill.

The bill establishes an environmental management regime for New Zealand's vast but currently unregulated Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which lies between 12 and 200 nautical miles off the coast.

Regulation of the EEZ has become a pressing issue with the Government making offshore oil, gas and even mineral exploration and extraction an important plank of its economic growth agenda.


However, in its submission, the Law Society says the bill "does not adequately reflect international law and associated jurisprudence or New Zealand's obligations under it".

As Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright also pointed out in her submission, the society said the bill's stated purpose, to "achieve a balance between protecting the environment and economic development", was not consistent with the Law of the Sea convention, which stated economic development could only take place on the condition the environment was protected.

The society also said the bill did not recognise New Zealand's international legal obligations beyond those of the convention. The society's concerns are also shared by many other submitters.

On the other hand, mining lobby group Straterra argued the list of considerations to be taken into account when considering the balance between economic and environmental concerns was "largely tilted towards environmental concerns". It urged changes to address that.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said he was "pretty open-minded" about ensuring the legislation met international obligations and provided the right balance between taking up economic opportunities and having proper environmental checks.