Off-shore drilling extensions questioned

The rig Ocean Patriot, the second-last rig seen off the coast of Oamaru, test drilling in 2006. Photo: Supplied
The rig Ocean Patriot, the second-last rig seen off the coast of Oamaru, test drilling in 2006. Photo: Supplied
Greenpeace and the Green Party have rounded on the Government for allowing oil and gas permit extensions to OMV and New Zealand Oil & Gas, both of which have multiple permits in the Canterbury and Great South Basins.

However, while Greenpeace and the Greens want an immediate cessation of existing permit extensions, the it appears the Government will continue to work to the letter of the law, and consider future extensions.

At all costs, the Government likely wants to steer clear of deep-pocketed oil companies initiating a judicial review on decisions and claiming the Government has acted outside the Crown Minerals Act.

While a year ago the Government banned issuance of new offshore permits, if any of the existing permits are surrendered they will not be reissued.

Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods had repeatedly spoken of transitioning away from fossil fuels, and has said existing oil and gas exploration permits could in theory be active through to 2046.

At a petroleum conference speech in March last year, Dr Woods said some of the oil and gas exploration permits could run as late as 2046.

''And we know we have 10 years or so of natural gas consented for drilling, and potentially many more years that could be discovered under existing exploration permits,'' she said at the time.

It appears that as long as the oil companies are acting to the letter of the law covering permits, and have the means to undertake the work within the prescribed regulatory timeframe, the Government has no legal reason to decline applications.

On the the eve of the first anniversary of the Coalition Government's ban on issuing any new offshore exploration permits, Austrian oil giant OMV has signalled the likelihood of drilling in the Great South Basin in 2019, on a permit which has been extended.

Around the South, New Zealand Oil & Gas, OMV and Beach Petroleum are all operating under extended permits, at offshore, deepwater prospects ranging from north of Oamaru and as far south as near Stewart Island, but with most to the southeast of Dunedin.

Greenpeace climate campaigner Amanda Larsson said oil companies with permits awarded before the April 2018 ban were still legally allowed to search for oil in New Zealand.

''Any extension of an existing permit is essentially granting a new permit, and is entirely inconsistent with climate leadership.

''As long as permit extensions like this continue, [Prime Minister Jacinda] Ardern's Government will start to lose its international credibility as a climate leader,'' Ms Larsson said.

She said OMV was able to drill in the Great South Basin only because a permit that should have expired in 2018 was extended by the Government at the last minute.

''Thanks to this inexplicable extension, the Great South Basin, which is one of the most biodiverse and pristine places in the world and home to Southern right whales, rare New Zealand sea lions, and dolphins, is now being opened up for high-risk exploratory drilling by an oil giant intent only on lining its own pockets at the expense of our climate and wildlife,'' she said in a statement.

''New Zealanders won the ban on new drilling through a long and hard-fought campaign that saw iwi, hapu, Greenpeace, local councils, and tens of thousands of people standing together to protect our oceans, coastlines, and the climate.

''OMV should expect resistance if it goes ahead with this plan,'' she said, echoing the sentiments of Oil Free Otago campaigners earlier this week.

Green Party Energy and Resources spokesman Gareth Hughes called the permit extensions a ''loophole'' allowing more offshore drilling.

He said there were 28 active mining or prospecting permits in place at present which could be used ''until the oil runs out'', if Dr Woods - whom he urged to take action and stop existing permit extensions - agreed to extend them.

''This Government has banned new offshore drilling permit applications, and now we need to close this loophole to stop further applications for deep sea oil drilling long into the future,'' Mr Hughes said.

-A total of 14 exploration wells have been drilled from the early-1970s to 2014 in the Canterbury and Great South Basins, with none reported as commercially viable, albeit showing some signs oil and gas deposits.

simon.hartley@odt.co.nz

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