Russel Norman, two other Greenpeace activists charges by MBIE over oil search vessel protest
Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Russel Norman and two other activists have been charged by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment under the Crown Minerals Act over a protest against deepwater seismic testing off the Wairarapa coast.
The three have been summoned to appear in the Napier District Court. An MBIE spokesman declined to comment on the charges but Greenpeace confirmed they involved Norman and two others.
The Crown Minerals Act, which governs the allocation of the Crown's petroleum and mineral resources, was amended in 2013 to add new offences covering damage or interference with structures or ships being used offshore in prospecting, exploration and mining activities. One of the new provisions sets a non-interference zone around a petroleum or minerals operation at sea that can extend up to 500 metres. Breaches carry a fine of up to $10,000.
The environmental group was protesting against the work of the Amazon Warrior vessel, which is using seismic tests to gather data for potential oil reserves. It says extracting oil from such deepwater risks a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and that new sources of fossil fuel were only adding to the problems of global warming. The testing was also a hazard to marine mammals, it said.
Energy Minister Judith Collins said an oil spill on that that scale "is an extremely low probability event."
"Internationally, there have been significant learnings taken from the Horizon spill," she said. "In New Zealand, we strengthened our regulatory regime - including regulating the environmental impacts of activities in our EEZ for the first time (marine consent process through the Environmental Protection Authority).
Further oil and gas discoveries would provide real benefits for New Zealand, Collins said. "The Pegasus Basin, where the Amazon is currently surveying off the Wairarapa coast, is particularly prospective for natural gas. If there were a discovery, there is potential for gas to be exported to India and Asia where it could be used to displace coal for electricity generation."
Chevron and Norwegian oil company Statoil teamed up in 2014 to take an interest in three blocks in the little-explored Pegasus Basin off the Wairarapa, taking advantage of a little-known scheme that encourages seismic data collection by entrepreneurial private firms which can then market the information to oil companies and can keep the information for 15 years before it becomes public property.