A Labour-led Government would change laws to strengthen environmental protections around deep sea oil exploration but would work with existing explorers to allow them to meet the new standards, Labour Leader David Cunliffe says.

Labour's position on deep sea oil exploration including Texan company Anadarko's current programmes in the Taranaki and Pegasus basins has at times been inconsistent. Economic development spokesman Shane Jones has extolled the benefits in terms of jobs while other MPs such as Phil Twyford have attended anti Anadarko protests.

This morning, Mr Cunliffe said Labour had always been clear about its position, "which is firstly, we are not opposed in principle to deep sea oil exploration, secondly if it is to proceed it needs to have world's best practice environment standards, full liability cover and clean up capacity and based on what we've currently seen, we're not yet convinced that those conditions have been met.

Mr Cunliffe said Labour's view was that New Zealand's law currently didn't require world's best practice in deep sea oil exploration, ''so we will be changing the law so it does and we will expect future consents to meet those standards''.


However, Labour would not immediately halt existing exploration programmes.

"We will work with the industry to make sure existing consents meet those standards.

"If a drilling consent has been issued under the current regulatory framework then under the law it is valid at the time it is issued. If the law and the standards change in future, my expectation would be a migration path or an opportunity for those companies to bring their operations up to those future standards.''

Prime Minister John Key said Labour's stance put them at odds with potential coalition partners the Greens.

"It's one of the reasons why a Labour-Greens Government would never work. Fundamentally the Greens are opposed to growth in pretty much every area, particularly in deep sea drilling and oil and gas exploration in general. Labour have a bit better record in that area than the Greens but it just shows you they're incompatible and won't work together.

"It's not just this area there are lots and lots of areas where there are considerable rifts between the two and it's something that they're going to have to reconcile but in the end actually Labour are fundamentally pretty weak they rely on the Greens and it's the Greens you should listen because that's the real agenda that would drive a Labour Greens Government."

In terms of Labour saying it was in favour of deep sea exploration with tougher regulations, Mr Key said the "big joke" was that it was National "that brought in proper rules and regulations around deep sea oil exploration".

"Labour has been the party that's been opposing us. Now they can see three quarters of a billion dollars worth of (exploration) activity and New Zealand getting wealthier, and all of a sudden they've decided they want to change positions."

Greens Co-leader Russel Norman said his party opposed deep sea oil exploration because of the "pretty significant" risk of immediate environmental damage but also because of the contribution new oil finds would make on climate change.

While the Greens refuse to set out bottom lines in terms of post-election talks, Dr Norman said there were clearly differences between his party and Labour, "but that doesn't mean we can't work together'.

"It will clearly be one of the issues on the table if we're in a position to negotiate after the next election and there will be differences in views around it. We'll just have to negotiate and the relative negotiating strength will depend on the election outcome."