Greymouth Petroleum allowed to search for oil and gas off Taranaki coast despite ban

Greymouth Petroleum allowed to search for oil and gas off Taranaki coast despite ban
Photo credit: Getty Images

By Robin Martin for RNZ

When is a ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration, really a ban?

That's the question environmentalists are asking after discovering Greymouth Petroleum has been given permission to conduct a massive seismic survey off the coast of Taranaki - with the likelihood of more activity to come.

The crown minerals regulator has allowed Greymouth Petroleum to piggyback off an existing mining permit to survey an adjacent area of more than than 260 square kilometres.

The move initially puzzled Climate Justice Taranaki researcher Catherine Cheung.

"Why would they allow further seismic survey if, as we understand, there's no new offshore petroleum permits.

"Then what's the point in more seismic testing that's outside any existing permit."

She said it made a mockery of the 2018 amendment to the Crown Minerals Act which banned any new offshore oil and gas exploration.

"At the time of the announcement of the offshore ban we were just so excited but as time goes on we learn that it's nothing like it sounds.

"It just has so many loopholes that companies can keep going and can even go further, bigger and longer than they were previously allowed."

In a statement, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said the 2018 amendment preserved many rights for existing permit holders.

That included doing seismic surveys in an adjacent area if no other permit was in force there.

Cheung reckoned she knew what was happening.

Late last year a judicial review found that the regulator, New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals, was wrong to turn down Greymouth's bid in 2017 for what could become the country's last new offshore oil and gas exploration permit.

The bid was now being reappraised.

The judicial review was vague on the whereabouts of the exploration area, but indicated it was in the vicinity of where the company intended to do the seismic survey.

That rang true to Cheung.

"I don't know where it is exactly but I would assume it would have to be within that area where they have authorisation to do seismic surveying.

"Maybe it depends on the result of this survey and the area might even shift a little bit."

The ministry said the offshore exploration ban would not apply to the reappraised Greymouth bid if it was approved.

That was because it is being reconsidered under the Crown Minerals Act before the 2018 amendment.

That was a grim prospect for Cheung.

"It's not a genuine ban of further drilling, further exploration it just feels like a show, a bit of a smokescreen to make us feel better."

Greymouth Petroleum declined to comment saying it did not discuss operational matters publicly.

The industry lobby group Energy Resources, which has been a vocal critic of the ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration, also declined to comment saying Greymouth was not a member.