The ocean around New Zealand is divided into two legal regimes. The territorial sea lies within 12 nautical miles of the coast and environmental issues are managed under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). But beyond this New Zealand has environmental responsibilities for the ocean within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the extended continental shelf (ECS). Together the EEZ and the ECS cover an area over twenty times larger than New Zealand itself. There is no legislative equivalent of the RMA for managing the impacts of developing resources in this vast area.
Advances in technology and changing economic viability have led to increasing interest in the resources on and beneath the ocean floor. Licences and permits granted in the last 10 years include:
• Two permits for mining petroleum
• 21 permits for exploring for petroleum
• A prospecting licence for phosphate on the Chatham Rise
• A prospecting licence for iron sands off Taranaki.
Such developments will present not only engineering challenges, but the potential for significant environmental impacts of a kind or on a scale new to New Zealand. For instance, the Texas-based oil company Anadarko is currently undertaking exploratory drilling at depths of 1400 and 1600 metres off the Taranaki coast. This is nearly fourteen times as deep as the water below the Maui platform, and about as deep as the sea where the huge oil leak occurred from a well in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It has recently been highlighted that New Zealand had only one government inspector for all of New Zealand’s onshore and offshore oil and gas operations.2
The EEZ and ECS Bill is thus very important and very welcome.
The Bill’s origin goes back 15 years to 1996. In that year, New Zealand signed the Convention on the Law of the Sea. This granted New Zealand sovereign rights to explore and exploit resources in the EEZ, subject to an obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment. In 2008, the United Nations extended the rights (and obligation) to most of New Zealand’s continental shelf beyond the EEZ.
Over the years since, work continued on developing policy and draft legislation, but progress was slow. In 2007, the OECD recommended that New Zealand “finalise and implement the ocean policy and pursue the further expansion of marine reserves”.
The proposed legislation establishes a skeleton for an administrative framework, but it is the regulations that will provide the muscle. The effectiveness of this legislation will thus depend on details that have yet to be established through regulations and standards set by the Minister for the Environment. I have recommended a number of amendments to the Bill in this submission in five key areas.
• International obligations
• Matters to be taken into account
• Information principles
The ordering follows that in the Bill and should not be taken to represent the importance of the recommendations. Recommendation 1 concerning the Purpose is particularly important since it sets the basis for all that follows, including the setting of regulations once the Bill has passed into law. Recommendation 5 is also especially important, since clause 61(2) as currently written appears to be an error and a serious one. The last section of the submission contains recommendations to the Committee concerning marine reserves.