Following a round of public consultation, the Government has confirmed that regulations under the new Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects Act 2012) ("EEZ Act") will classify exploratory drilling for Petroleum in the exclusive economic zone as a non-notified discretionary activity under the EEZ Act.

The decision, announced on 27 February 2014, will disappoint a number of environmental groups who argued that all deep sea drilling should be notified for public input, but will be welcomed by the oil and gas industry.  Minister Adams emphasised that obtaining a marine consent to drill an exploratory well does not give the consent holder the right to begin producing oil or gas. Exploratory drilling is defined in the regulations to exclude the drilling of production wells or development wells.

The effect of the regulations is that an application for exploratory drilling for Petroleum is not to be publicly notified, provided that the applicant has an exploration permit for the same geographical area under the Crown Minerals Act 1991 (or otherwise holds an existing privilege preserved under that Act). 

The new regulations came into force on 28 February 2014.