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The Government is planning to remove the public's right to oppose deep-sea oil and gas exploration.
A law change would see applications by oil giants go through the Environmental Protection Agency, but they would be "non-notified", which means members of the public would not get to have a say.
Environment Minister Amy Adams released a discussion document yesterday and invited submissions.
The proposal will be introduced to the Marine Legislation Bill, currently before Parliament, by way of a Supplementary Order Paper. This means it won't go through a parliamentary select committee.
The move follows the controversial "Anadarko Amendment" which saw a ban on protesting at sea. Minister of Labour Simon Bridges was criticised for introducing it as an SOP, also avoiding select committee scrutiny, and kowtowing to oil companies.
Environmentalists say the exploration stage is risky with a danger of spills. The Deepwater Horizon disaster took place during drilling a deep exploratory well, killing 11 crewmen and sending millions of barrels of oil gushing into the sea for 87 days.
A study by Scandinavia's largest independent research organisation SINTEF shows more than a third of blowouts take place during exploratory drilling.
Green Party energy spokesman Gareth Hughes said the Government is shutting out the public.
"Deep sea drilling should be a prohibited activity given that, if there is a leak from a deep sea oil rig, the consequence for New Zealand's environment, economy and reputation would be catastrophic. But if the Government is going to recklessly allow it to happen, then at the very least, the public should have a say on each and every proposal," he said.
"Exploratory drilling is the riskiest phase of oil production, and can lead to horrendous accidents."
Ms Adams said the new classification - which also includes discharges of harmful substances and dumping of waste in the Exclusive Economic Zone - would provide an appropriate level of oversight and discretion by the EPA. The activities would only take place over a short period or are routine. Exploratory drilling for oil and gas generally takes up to six weeks.
"The proposals in the discussion document balance the need to protect the ocean environment, while not overly burdening industry with excessive costs and extended timeframes," she said.
The Environment Ministry discussion paper says cost to applicants are "disproportionate".
- © Fairfax NZ News
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