Deepwater oil on the horizon?

News that the government is considering allowing exploratory deep sea oil drilling in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) without consent is alarming, and quite ironic, Forest & Bird Conservation Advocate Claire Browning says.

“When the EEZ legislation was introduced and passed, it was supposed to be about regulating this kind of activity, and taking a cautious approach. It would be incautious, and downright dangerous, if the government were now simply to permit it.”

“When you consider the consenting requirements on ordinary New Zealanders doing innocuous things in their own back yards, it would be absurd and wrong.”

The government is currently developing regulations under the recently passed EEZ legislation, to determine which offshore activities would be prohibited, discretionary (requiring consent) or permitted within stated rules.

Sources indicate that oil exploration is being considered as a possible permitted activity, and Environment Minister Amy Adams yesterday wouldn’t rule it out, saying that the government is considering all options.

Forest & Bird’s earlier submission on the draft regulations was among the 99 per cent of nearly 12,000 EEZ submissions received by the government calling for deep sea oil activity beyond 500 metre depth to be prohibited for the time being, with the remainder discretionary and requiring consent, Claire Browning says.

The Gulf of Mexico environmental disaster, at a drilling depth of 1500 metres, was an exploratory oil activity, as were a significant proportion of offshore blowouts (around one-third), one study shows.

At depths in New Zealand waters of more than 3000 metres in some places, and the Bay of Plenty still bearing the scars of Rena’s spill a year ago, New Zealanders are entitled to be reassured that their government is regulating and scrutinising proposed oil activities and managing their risks, Claire Browning says.

“Instead it seems to be open season on economic activity at the expense of our environment.”