2. Exploration

A rigorous approval process must be completed before an operator can begin the exploration process. The conditions of these consents will be monitored and enforced.

On this page:

New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals approval process

  • Permits for petroleum exploration (that include the right to drill exploration wells) are issued through NZP&M’s annual Block Offer tender process.

Block offers[NZP&M website]

  • NZP&M first consult with iwi and hapū and engage with councils about areas of sea (blocks) which they are thinking of making available for exploration, and considers their views. The blocks are then finalised and operators are invited to bid for exploration permits within those blocks. Bidders are assessed on their proposed work programme.
  • NZP&M also assesses an operator’s technical and financial capability, and compliance history, and undertakes a preliminary, high-level assessment of the operator’s capability and systems that are likely to be required to meet applicable health, safety and environmental legislation.
  • Exploration permits last up to 15 years.

Type of permits[NZP&M website]

  • If an operator wants to explore for minerals offshore, they can apply to NZP&M for an exploration permit over a specific area. Applications are assessed on the same criteria as petroleum exploration, including consultation with affected iwi and hapu.

Seismic surveying can also occur during the prospecting or exploration phases. The same conditions (outlined in the Assessment stage) apply.

Regional councils

  • Operators who want to carry out prospecting and exploration out to 12 nm need to comply with the RMA and, in most cases, obtain a resource consent if it is required by the regional council’s Coastal Plan.

Applying for a resource consent[MfE website]

  • Regional councils undertake a similar type of assessment of the environmental impact of the proposed activity as the EPA.
  • Some resource consent applications may be considered and decided by a Board of Inquiry or the Environment Court instead of a council. These applications include those directly referred to the Environment Court by the applicant (with the agreement of council), or proposals of national significance that have been referred to the Court or a Board of Inquiry by the Minister for the Environment (these are said to have been ‘called-in’).

The Environmental Protection Authority approval process

Operators who want to carry out activities (restricted by s20 of the EEZ Act ) that are involved in exploratory drilling for petroleum in the EEZ and CS need to obtain a marine consent from the EPA. As of October 2015 operators will also need to obtain consent from the EPA for operational discharges and any dumping activities that are planned.

The EEZ act[New Zealand Legislation website]

  • As part of this process, operators must provide an impact assessment to the EPA which identifies any effects of undertaking the proposed activities on the environment and existing interests; and the measures they will take to avoid, remedy or mitigate any adverse effects.
  • The application will be considered by either a decision-making committee of experts appointed by the EPA Board or by the Chief Executive of the EPA dependent on the type of consent applied for. If granted, a marine consent or marine discharge consent will set out what conditions must be met to deal with the adverse effects of the proposed activity on the environment or existing interests. These conditions will be monitored and enforced by the EPA.
  • Marine consent applications for activities involved in exploratory drilling are classified as non-notified discretionary under the EEZ Act. This means applications for non-notified activities will not be publicly notified. The EPA cannot consider public submissions or information provided to it. In making its decision on an application, the EPA will consider whether it needs to request further information or advice in accordance with the EEZ Act. Applicants will still be required to identify and consult with existing interest holders (including iwi authorities and Māori​ groups) who may be affected by the proposed activity.
  • Public submissions can be made on marine consent applications for the production phase of petroleum operations.

Learn more about having your say[EPA website]

Maritime New Zealand approval process

  • Operators need to apply for approval from MNZ for their oil spill contingency plan (OSCP). This plan sets out the preventative measures, procedures and practices aimed at reducing the likelihood of an oil spill incident and describes the processes that will be followed to respond to an incident.

Oil Spill Contingency Plans

An OSCP  that has been approved by MNZ will show that the operator of the oil or gas facilit y has:

  • minimised the risk of an accidental oil spill by using the best available technology and practices
  • detailed emergency response plans in place if a spill does occur, including a Well Control Contingency Plan in case of a well blow-out
  • planned to ensure effects on the marine environment are minimised in the event of an oil spill.

Some of MNZ’s responsibilities for managing discharges from offshore activities were transferred in October 201 5 to the EPA. This included operational discharges of harmful substances from offshore structures and production facilities on board mineral mining ships; and dumping of waste.

WorkSafe New Zealand approval process

  • All operators have a duty to provide safe working places for their workforce and must comply with health and safety regulations.
  • Petroleum operators intending to drill a well are required to submit a safety case to WorkSafe NZ for approval at least 90 days before starting any activity. Any hazards to safety must be identified and control measures implemented.

Read about High Hazards[WorkSafe NZ website]

  • Well operators must make sure that working wells are independently examined throughout the lifecycle of each well.
  • WorkSafe NZ and MNZ are the two government agencies with responsibility for ensuring operators involved in petroleum exploration or mining at sea comply with health and safety regulations.

Health and Safety regulations[New Zealand Legislation website]

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