The New Zealand Government has introduced new regulations stating that activities involved in exploratory drilling for oil and gas will be classified as non-notified discretionary.
Drilling of an offshore well in order to identify oil or gas deposits under the seafloor and to evaluate their suitability for production is termed as exploratory drilling.
The new EEZ Act regulations, which are set to come into effect on 28 February 2014, have been announced by Environment Minister Amy Adams.
Ms Adams said: "The non-notified discretionary classification is the pragmatic option for exploratory drilling, and will provide a level of regulation proportionate to its effects.
"This is part of the national-led government’s overhaul of the laws and regulations governing the oil and gas industry."
The classification will not burden the industry with excessive costs and timeframes and is expected to provide effective oversight and environmental safeguards.
An impact assessment that identifies impacts on the environment and existing interests needs to be submitted by the operators, as part of the marine consent application.
Any consultation undertaken with people identified as existing interests should be described in the impact assessment.
The effects of the activity on the environment and existing interests will be completely evaluated by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), which can impose such conditions if a marine consent is granted.
By obtaining a marine consent to drill an exploratory well, the consent holder will not have the right to begin producing oil or gas. Prior to commencing production activities, the operator will have to apply for a separate, discretionary marine consent.
The decision for activities involved in drilling follows a seven-week consultation period on the draft regulations from 12 December 2013 to 31 January 2014.
The EEZ Act came into force on 28 June 2013.