The Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 (EEZ Act) is to be amended to allow petroleum exploration marine consents to be obtained without input from the public.
This will be achieved by establishing petroleum exploration as a non-notified discretionary activity – meaning that there will be no scope for public submissions and that oversight will rest with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).
The move is part of the Government’s effort to encourage mining and follows new anti-protest protections for deep sea mining operations.
The EEZ Act
The Act will come into force in June this year, following the promulgation of the necessary regulations. However, the Government has held out the treatment of petroleum exploration to be dealt with via an amendment to the Act through a Supplementary Order Paper to the Marine Legislation Bill.
Environment Minister Amy Adams has indicated that there will be formal consultations on the SOP, which will be undertaken shortly.
Classifying petroleum exploration appears to have caused some problems for the Government. The Minister indicated that industry sought permitted activity status, meaning that no consent would be required. However, the Government acknowledged in the regulations discussion document that exploration activities are likely to have effects that are more than minor.
How, then, to encourage exploration activities, while also ensuring an appropriate level of oversight and discretion?
The Government’s proposed solution is that applications for petroleum exploration marine consent will not be publicly notified. The lack of opportunity for public submissions will save permit applicants significant time and costs but will – no doubt – be opposed by environmental groups.
The regulations under the EEZ Act
Activities which will be classified as permitted, meaning no marine consent will be required are:
- seismic surveying
- marine scientific research
- submarine cabling
- prospecting for petroleum and minerals, and
- exploration for minerals.
Production mining activities for petroleum and minerals will be classified as discretionary and will be publicly notified. No activities are proposed to be prohibited.