05, May, 2010

New Zealand must fill ocean law gaps – Brownlee wrong that oceans protection adequate

Category: ECO Inc

The Government needs urgently to fill gaps in maritime law so it has environmental measures in place to control oil exploration and mining on the continental shelf the Environment and Conservation Organisations (ECO) said today.

ECO was responding to the claim by the Minister of Energy and Resources, Gerry Brownlee that New Zealand “has very high environmental standards" for managing the oil industry.

Environmental and Conservation Organisations co-chair Barry Weeber, says frankly it’s wrong to claim New Zealand has the environmental laws and regulations to control oil and gas development on the continental shelf “There is no environmental management law or public process for the control of mining, oil, and gas exploration and mining beyond 12 nautical miles.

“There is no equivalent of the Resource Management Act to control mining or oil and gas activity outside of the territorial sea (12 nautical miles offshore). All there is are a few of the regulations from the international MARPOL agreements implemented under the Maritime Transport Act, but many have not been implemented.

Mr Weeber said there is no environmental impact assessment and no public process. “The only other measure is a voluntary code of practice that the petroleum explorers wrote for themselves at the request of the Ministry for the Environment. The public were not involved, and environmental groups were given no opportunity to comment.”

Mr Weeber said the Government had long recognised gaps in marine environmental law as part of the Ocean’s policy process begun in 2002. “It was proposed in 2007 to fill “key gaps in EEZ environmental regulation and promote a consistent approach to environmental management across different statutes.”

Mr Weeber said National’s Nick Smith had promised the ECO Conference in 2008 that if they were elected, National would introduce an Oceans Policy, but nothing has been done.

“Relying on the Maritime Transport Act and voluntary codes or practice is not sufficient and the oil industry itself has recognised the need for change.”

Mr Weeber said that the voluntary guidelines were not sufficient for the management of the environmental aspects of oil and gas exploration and development.

“The Government has yet to give legislative priority to introduce new oceans law or ratify a number of important international maritime conventions.”

Mr Weeber noted that the previous government was drafting an oceans law prior to the election to fill the current gaps and ratify international agreements but this had not been taken up by the current government.

For further information, contact Barry Weeber 021-738-807 or 04-389-1696, or Cath Wallace on 021-891-994.


  1. ECO – the Environment and Conservation Organisations was established in 1972 and represents 67 groups with a concern for the environment.
  2. The Resource Management Act controls environmental aspects of oil and gas mining out to 12 nautical miles offshore, the edge of the territorial sea. The Maritime Transport Act covers some aspects of safety and environmental provisions for oil and gas activity on the Exclusive Economic Zone (from 12 to 200 nautical miles offshore) and the continental shelf but this did not include key environmental controls which led to the adoption of some unenforceable voluntary codes.
  3. Voluntary guidelines which have no legislative force include:
  4. There are no environmental regulations under the Continental Shelf Act or the Crown Minerals Act.
  5. The proposals to develop gap filling legislation were consulted on in 2007 and 2008. Information can be found on the Ministry for the Environment website
  6. The Maui gasfield, the Tui oil field, and the Kupe gas field are found offshore Taranaki outside the area managed by the Resource Management Act but in relatively shallow water. The Tui field is located about 50km offshore at a water depth of about 120m. Kupe is a gas and light oil field about 30km offshore at water depth of about 35m.
  7. The Canterbury Basin area offshore from Dunedin is in deep water of more than 1000 metres. Petroleum explorers Anadarko and Origin are involved in a joint venture to fund exploratory drilling. Other areas being looked at offshore, including the Great South Basin, are in much deeper water than current operating fields and it would be very challenging to deal with any spill.
  8. New Zealand has a range of threatened and endangered marine mammals and seabirds which could be affected by any spill including southern right whales, Hector’s dolphin, New Zealand sea lion, wandering albatross, and yellow-eyed penguins
  9. New Zealand has yet to ratify a range of maritime laws under the International Maritime Organisation. In 2008 the Ministry of Transport proposed the ratification of some of these conventions. See also Maritime Environmental Conventions. The conventions that New Zealand has not ratified include
    • Protocol of 2003 to the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1992 (Fund Protocol);
    • International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, 2001 (Bunkers Convention);
    • Protocol of 1996 to amend the International Convention on the Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims 1976 (LLMC Protocol);
    • Protocol Relating to Intervention on the High Seas in Cases of Pollution by Substances other than Oil 1973, as amended (Intervention Protocol);
    • Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Co-operation to Pollution Incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances 2000 (OPRC-HNS Protocol).
    • International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea, 1996 (HNS Convention)
  10. Other maritime law not ratified by New Zealand include:

  11. There is also information on some of the conventions that New Zealand needs to ratify on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website