Minister failed to consult adequately on deep sea oil licence, court told

BUSINESSDESK: Lawyers challenging Brazilian oil company Petrobras's deep sea oil exploration licence say the Minister of Energy failed to consider the impacts of such activity on marine life from seismic surveying even before an exploration well is drilled.

Counsel for Greenpeace and the Maori iwi Te Whanau a Apanui argued in the High Court at Wellington that while nothing could stop the minister issuing an exploration licence, even if he had evidence of potential environmental harm, he was still obliged to "give consideration to" such relevant evidence.

That had not occurred, said David Salmond, in occasionally emotive submissions which earned cautions from Justice Warwick Gendall that he was seeking a judicial review, not trying to persuade a jury.

The Petrobras exploration licence covers a large offshore area in the Raukumara Basin, offshore from the East Cape of the North Island.

The company faced opposition from a small flotilla when it undertook seismic surveying in the region early last year.

The bid for judicial review seeks to overturn the licence on the grounds it was granted without all relevant environmental and Treaty of Waitangi partnership obligations being considered.

Anticipating the Crown's lawyers may argue that the Maritime Transport Act covers oil spills, Mr Salmond argued the Minister of Energy was the first and only line of defence to consider whether an area was simply too risky to drill, and that decision point came when considering an exploration licence application.

"Are there areas like the Great South Basin that are too deep, where it would be too difficult to control a spill?" he asked, referring not only to obligations to consult iwi, but also for New Zealand to meet its international obligations under various treaties covering the marine environment.

He cited an affidavit from an American marine expert, Professor Richard Steiner, saying New Zealand was the only country the scientist was aware of where it was not standard best practice to conduct an environmental impact assessment before granting an exploration licence.

On the obligation to consult adequately with iwi, Mr Salmond argued the government should have consulted far more widely than with Te Whanau a Apanui because of the potential for an oil spill to reach all parts of the North Island east coast, down to Christchurch in the South Island and as far as Norfolk Island, an Australian territory.

Instead, there had been no consideration of where a spill might end up.

Mr Salmond also suggested iwi should have been told Petrobras was the applicant, and that it was "the largest player south of the equator from a country with an appalling record towards its indigenous people".

This, and many other aspects of the Petrobras application, had not been conveyed to the iwi, who had thought the written notification of consultation meant it was no more than "a minor issue".

"Where was the meaningful consultation?" asked Mr Salmond. "It just didn't happen."

He pointed to international studies suggesting seismic research, which uses sonar explosions to investigate geological structures, amounted to "a shattering racket" that echoes for kilometres underwater, damaging and in some cases killing marine species, including whales.

That alone made consultation with Te Whanau a Apanui important, since whales, kahawai and moki were all regarded as taonga, or treasures, by the iwi.

They therefore represented a matter on which Treaty of Waitangi-based consultations should have been required and environmental limits to planned activities considered, Mr Salmond said.

The Crown response is expected to begin later today or tomorrow.

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Of course we should note that Greenpeace is not a registered political party in New Zealand, and is not accountable to our voters. So why do they have the right to challenge any New Zealand government decisions? However, they are willy nilly doing the dirty work for the Greens without the Greens having to put their hands in their members pockets.
Oil rights vest in the state, not in Iwi, so why should they be consulted? Note that Maori in the Gisborne area believed that oil seeping out of the ground was from dead whales, so why are they concerned about seismic activity in the deep sea? Volcanoes don't have to get resource consent or Iwi permission before going off, neither do earthquakes which make seismic look like pip-squeaks, but then there is no money from earthquakes or volcanoes for Maori.
I would be remiss if I failed to point out that the real reason the Iwi's sudden interest is only because of the possibility of some nice settlement money which will never find it's way to any poor Maori person.


Presumably we are paying for these leaches to hire top lawyers too.
Anon 111, you are so right in spotting the Comrade "Greens-in-name-only" (aka Gorons) lurking in the background.


I will consider this ridiculus appeals when the greens, including green peace stop using cars, boats or anything using petrol or made by the use of non renewable energy, as well as creating wealth and employment by using only green and green peace policies.
brasil has a very good record of deep sea oil drillong and is exporting their technology where they need.


Of course the Minister failed to consult adequately as they knew only to well he does not have the scientific data or moral authority,mandate even to defend his issuing of the permit.The economic benefits don't stack up either.It is another move on the Govts part to sell us out to a multi-national corporation.The Norwegian Govt owns 80% of its off-shore drilling.NZ will be lucky to see a 5% return on this debacle.


This is an unintelligent comment that shows you don't know anything about the law in NZ, or the oil industry in NZ or anywhere else. NZ cannot afford luddites like you or the Greens (or their proxies, Greenpeace) taking a bogoted, generally uninformed view of these matters.


Well the reason we don't have much expertise down here is because the Greens don't want progress do they? They celebrate when we lose our miners to Aussie, and then bitch about the low wages here. Then they sabotage all the work done to get a major like Petrobras to even consider this part of the world with fair weather Iwi and Greenpeace doing their dirty work.
And we don't have the money or the technical expertise to carry out this work because of hypocrites like the Greens who have always stopped any progress on this front. Yet they love high tech mobile phones, and all the trappings of the modern world, while trying to deny progress here. Perhaps they don't like jobs, because then their members would have to get paid work like the rest of us.


Iwi had huge concerns about the Waikato water pipeline to feed water to Auckland and even though there was “consultation” at the time, it wasn’t anywhere near enough “consultation” so Watercare (read Auckland tax payers) “consulted” extensively with local Iwi – (read gave lots more money) and the Waikato Taniwha was eventually appeased, allowing the pipeline to go ahead.

Does this sound almost like legalised extortion to anyone else?


Without betraying too many confidences, there is a knack to good/sound successful consultation and it has to do with the methodology deployed. A case study should be conducted by someone looking at the Water Care outcome compared with the Transit NZ outcome, involving the same taniwha in the same location along the same stretch of the Waikato River. The cost difference to get the respective consents was about $5mil.


And did the IRD get any of this taniwha income? And did any poor Maori member get a single cent of that money, or did it go to the Mugabe like dictators running these Maori "Trusts" ( what a misnomer! )
Perhaps The Doctor could enlighten us on this matter?


This challenge of the exploratory license is driven by nothing more than 'ignorant, ideological obstructive drivel'.
Hopefully we have a Judge, intelligent enough to recognise the case as such, and throw it out of court; awarding damages against the perpetrators for wasting the courts time.


if we don't get the oil and gas out in years to come i predict a large nation eg china will come down and get it themselves and what will we be able to do.


Gerry Brownlee has failed in his duty as Minister, the Court should reflect this.


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