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Petrobras, Petroleum Exploration Permit—Environmental Protection Provisions

Tuesday 12 April 2011 (advance copy) Hansard source (external site)

Clendon8. DAVID CLENDON (Green) Link to this
to the Minister of Energy and Resources

What environmental protection provisions, if any, did the Government include in the permit granted to Petrobras to explore for oil and drill off the East Cape?

ParataHon HEKIA PARATA (Acting Minister of Energy and Resources) Link to this

Petrobras, like all operators, must apply with applicable law and regulations in New Zealand for the activities it conducts, including the Crown Minerals Act, the Resource Management Act, the Maritime Transport Act, the Biosecurity Act, and the Health and Safety in Employment Act. Petrobras has also committed to complying with the Department of Conservation’s guidelines for minimising acoustic disturbance to marine mammals from seismic survey operations, and has an independent observer on its survey vessel to ensure that is happening.

ClendonDavid Clendon Link to this

Can the Minister confirm that outside the 12 nautical mile limit the Resource Management Act does not apply and that there is no requirement for resource consent or any equivalent environmental approval?

ParataHon HEKIA PARATA Link to this

In New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone and extended continental shelf, beyond the territorial sea, the Maritime Transport Act 1994, which is administered by Maritime New Zealand, applies when a party is operating a ship or installation for seismic survey, drilling, and production-associated activities. Under the Maritime Transport Act, safety and marine protection standards—which are known as maritime rules, marine protection rules, and emergency marine protection rules—apply, and operators must have maritime and marine protection documents. This is an issue on which my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Dr Nick Smith, has been actively working, as part of the Environmental Protection Authority reforms.

ClendonDavid Clendon Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a very fulsome answer, but it did not go to the heart of my question, which asked about resource consent or equivalent environmental approval. The Minister referred to safety and other issues, but not to environmental approval.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

The dilemma I have as the Speaker is that if the question had asked specifically about resource consent processes, it would have been much simpler, but it went on to ask about “or equivalent” measures. In her answer the Minister appeared to me to be giving information about equivalent measures relating to other legislation that did have environmental protection implications. I cannot judge how comprehensive those are, but the member has further supplementary questions to pursue that issue.

ClendonDavid Clendon Link to this

Why has a foreign oil company been permitted to explore and drill for oil in deep water when, according to the Ministry of Economic Development’s review of offshore petroleum operations, there is a “lack of an environmental permitting regime”?

ParataHon HEKIA PARATA Link to this

As I have previously answered, we have a sufficient legislative and regulatory regime in place to cover the permit that has currently been made available to Petrobras. We are addressing other, wider exclusive economic zone legislation as part of our work agenda.

HideHon Rodney Hide Link to this

Why does the Government stand by and allow these ecoterrorists to humiliate New Zealand and cost us potential jobs and income?

ParataHon HEKIA PARATA Link to this

Police are responsible for operational decisions, and they make those decisions independently of Ministers.

ClendonDavid Clendon Link to this

Given that there is no environmental permitting regime or requirements in the permit issued to Petrobras, how can the Government be sure that there will not be a catastrophic leak such as the one that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico last year?

ParataHon HEKIA PARATA Link to this

I reject the premise of that question. In previous answers I have indicated the regulatory and legal regime that is in place to provide for environmental management.

HideHon Rodney Hide Link to this

What action is the Government taking to enable people to go about their lawful, legal business in New Zealand waters, free from the harassment of eco-fascists who want to put New Zealand back into the Dark Ages?

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

I do not think it is appropriate to refer to any New Zealanders as fascists, unless they wish to be so referred to. But, more than that, I do not see how the question is the responsibility of the Minister. It relates to law and order, and the primary question was set down for answer by the Acting Minister of Energy and Resources. I do not want to deprive the member of a question. I invite him to rephrase his question and try to bring it into line with the Minister’s responsibilities.

HideHon Rodney Hide Link to this

What action is the Government taking to enable people to go about their lawful business, which she as Minister has consented them to do, free from the harassment of these—what could we possibly call them—eco-protesters who want to put New Zealand back into the Dark Ages?

ParataHon HEKIA PARATA Link to this

As the Prime Minister has said, and as I have repeated, protesters have the right to peacefully protest, but Petrobras has the permit to go about its survey business, and the rule of law will be upheld by police making operational decisions that are outside my portfolio.

ClendonDavid Clendon Link to this

Does the Minister think that one part-time inspector will be sufficient to adequately monitor all offshore petroleum activities in New Zealand?

ParataHon HEKIA PARATA Link to this

As I have already indicated, there is a comprehensive regime in place that involves hundreds, if not thousands, of public servants who carry out their responsibilities under that Act. We are also reviewing areas that we need to strengthen.

ClendonDavid Clendon Link to this

Why has a foreign oil company been permitted to explore and drill for oil in our sensitive marine environment, with no prior consultation with directly affected iwi and hapū?

ParataHon HEKIA PARATA Link to this

That is simply untrue. Both Te Rūanga o Ngāti Porou and Te Rūnanga o Te Whānau a Apanui were invited, on several occasions, to contribute to the permitting process.

ClendonDavid Clendon Link to this

What is the Government’s contingency plan if there is a catastrophic oil spill or leak resulting from exploratory drilling?

ParataHon HEKIA PARATA Link to this

Maritime New Zealand is responsible for ensuring that New Zealand is prepared for, and able to respond to, marine oil spills. The Marine Pollution Response Service consists of internationally respected experts, who manage and train a team of about 400 local, Government, and Maritime New Zealand responders.

ClendonDavid Clendon Link to this

Supplementary—

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

I believe that the member has had his six.

ClendonDavid Clendon Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We are exercising the extra supplementary questions we received from the Hon Chris Carter.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

Well, I will allow the member to do that, but I ask that in the future the member makes sure I am advised of that. I was not advised of that, and normally I am required to be advised of that. But I will allow the member to ask his supplementary question.

ClendonDavid Clendon Link to this

Apologies, Mr Speaker; thank you for that. What resources or infrastructure does the New Zealand Government have to deal with a catastrophic oil spill that were not available to the American Government or BP Oil in the Gulf of Mexico?

ParataHon HEKIA PARATA Link to this

I believe that I answered the front end of that question in my last answer, and I have no responsibility for the US response.

ClendonDavid Clendon Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not think that the Minister addressed the question, let alone answered it, and I would appreciate a more direct answer than that.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

The question was actually not an unreasonable question. It asked what mechanisms or resources the Government has to deal with an oil spill that were not available to the US. It may be that the Minister does not have that information, because she certainly does not have any responsibility for the US. If the Minister has any information on that, then it is not an unreasonable question. But if the Minister does not have any information on that, then it is perfectly reasonable for her to tell the House she does not have specific information on that.

ParataHon HEKIA PARATA Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The response I gave to the previous question was that Maritime New Zealand is responsible for ensuring that New Zealand is well prepared, and that the Marine Pollution Response Service consists of internationally respected experts who train a team of 400 local, Government, and Maritime New Zealand responders. But as to whether they were made available in terms of the US response, I cannot answer.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

The member is now going further than necessary. I believe that I cannot take the matter further, because the Minister cannot be expected to have that information. I accept that the member’s question was not an unreasonable question, but an answer to it would depend on whether a Minister has that specific information. I do not think we should take the further time of the House on that. The question specifically asked what extra facilities or resources we have, and all the Minister can outline is what we do have. That may or may not be extra, but we cannot expect the Minister to know what the US has.

ClendonDavid Clendon Link to this

I seek leave to table two documents. The first is a Ministry of Economic Development report of September 2010 entitled Comparative Review of Health, Safety and Environmental Legislation for Offshore Petroleum Operations, which states that there is a lack of an environmental permitting regime in the exclusive economic zone.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.

ClendonDavid Clendon Link to this

I seek leave to table the Environmental Defence Society’s submission on the Ministry of Economic Development offshore petroleum review, which provides evidence that the inspection office is severely under-resourced, with only one part-time inspector.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.

HideHon Rodney Hide Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The matter has just come up, and I ask you to reflect on it. Speaker Hunt made a new ruling in this House by allowing parties to shift the day on which they would ask a question, or, indeed, enabling parties to shift questions from one party to another. We have just had an instance of the apparently Independent member Chris Carter not asking his question when it came up, but, rather, transferring it to the Greens. I ask you to reflect on whether that is allowed under the rules, and, indeed, whether it should be allowed under the rules. Chris Carter gets a question once in a blue moon. If he cannot be bothered coming here to ask the question, he can actually postpone it to another day. And he was actually elected as a member of the Labour Party, not the Greens.

MallardHon Trevor Mallard Link to this

Far be it from me to defend Chris Carter, but I would just like to remind Mr Hide that his party has come to Labour in order to request supplementary questions be transferred in that very way.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

I do not believe we need to take this matter any further today. Supplementary questions are always at the discretion of the Speaker, because there are not rules over this matter. What the Speaker did establish—during Speaker Hunt’s time, as the Minister pointed out—is that supplementary questions can be transferred provided that the Speaker is advised. Today the Speaker was not advised. I re-emphasise the point. I allowed the supplementary question to be transferred. We keep track of how many questions are available to Independent members so that they cannot transfer more than they have available to them in the course of a week. We keep track of all of that, but the Speaker must be advised. In the future I will not allow the transfer of a question unless I am advised.

NormanDr Russel Norman Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to reflect. Normally, you have ruled that one should not use the point of order process to cast aspersions on other members of the House or to make political points. Mr Hide clearly said in reference to Mr Carter that Mr Carter could not be bothered to turn up, which was clearly a negative connotation to put on Mr Carter. He was using the point of order process in a manner that it was never designed to be used.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

I hear what the member said, and he will note that I did get to my feet and cut off the Minister before he had completed his point of order, for those very reasons. I felt he was starting to depart from the proper process for a point of order. If I was perhaps a little slow in getting to my feet, I do apologise for that.

HideHon Rodney Hide Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just for future reference, Mr Speaker, what assurance do you need as Speaker that, in fact, an Independent member of Parliament has allowed their question—

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

We do not need to take further time on this. The Speaker, of course, must be satisfied of that. That is why the Speaker must be advised—so that the Speaker can keep track of all these things and make sure it is all done in a proper manner, and we do that.

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