A last-ditch attempt to stop deep-sea oil drilling could drag through the courts for up to two years, a top lawyer says.
Texan oil giant Anadarko began exploration off the Raglan coast in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Greenpeace reacted by asking the High Court to stop the exploration. It has asked for a judicial review and an urgent hearing, claiming the government's Environmental Protection Agency made a legal bungle when granting consent.
Leading public lawyer Mai Chen said the environmental lobbyists were "trying to cut down the tree at its root". However, without an injunction, litigation can take a long time.
"Anadarko is out there now . . . The issue for them is how they get this matter to trial as soon as possible . . . I don't know that they are going to get co-operation from Anadarko. Cases can routinely take a year, two years."
Greenpeace argues the EPA did not consider several key reports, including documents modelling an oil spill and emergency plans to deal with a slick.
The Government has refused requests to release these documents.
Greenpeace chief policy adviser Nathan Argent said: "The Government's process appears to have a hole in it so big that an untested 230 metre-long drilling ship has been driven through it.
"We haven't seen these documents, so we don't know what's in them. This not only looks shockingly lax . . . it also now looks like this was not lawful."
Chen said it would be "quite hard to prove" that the EPA gave no consideration to the documents. "You might not like the weight that they put on it but it's quite hard to argue that they didn't take it into account at all," she said.
Greenpeace also yesterday pulled out protest ship Vega, which had been circling the exploration ship Noble Bob Douglas, to concentrate on the High Court battle.
The Green Party called on Anadarko to stop drilling until the court battle was resolved.
MP Gareth Hughes said the process to grant permission was "an utter shambles".
Labour's environment spokeswoman Moana Mackey said the legal challenge was the direct result of "shoddy law-making."
However, Prime Minister John Key said the EPA was confident of its legal procedures "and they are confident they have done everything that is required of them".
"This is another stunt by the Greens and by Greenpeace. If they believe they have got a legal case they should take it to court and test it," he said.
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