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New Zealand will not be able to claim "world-class" oil and gas sector regulation if it pushes ahead with a plan that would stop public hearings on resource consents for oil exploration in the country's Exclusive Economic Zone, the Environmental Defence Society says.
The commitment to world-class regulation was in conflict with a proposed process which would see applications for exploration with the country's 200 nautical mile EEZ not requiring public notification or submissions, and handled by the "politically appointed" Environmental Protection Authority.
"There would be no opportunity for third parties to be heard by an independent hearings panel, no opportunity to question the applicant on its environmental record or intentions and no opportunity to call expert evidence on the environmental effects of the exploration activity," EDS chairman Gary Taylor says.
His comments come after Energy Minister Simon Bridges unveiled the 2013 block offer for oil and gas exploration, including some 190,000sq km of offshore acreage, much of it in the EEZ.
"Public scrutiny is an essential component of best-practice environmental regulation. A closed-shop consenting regime is not transparent and raises the possibility of agency capture and political influence," Mr Taylor says.
"Given the extreme consequences if something goes wrong, this is quite unacceptable."
EDS did not oppose oil and gas exploration, but "we want to see best practice out there to protect our ocean and coastlines".