Last month, Minister of Energy Simon Bridges opened up vast areas of New Zealand for oil exploration. The offer area "just happened" to include our biggest forest park - a decision about which the Minister was apparently completely ignorant of - causing a certain amount of interest in whether he had properly considered conservation values in the decision-making process. Someone naturally asked over FYI, the public OIA requests site, and today the response came back: he didn't. The released documents show that conservation and environmental issues didn't really feature in the advice and that there was no advice on the underlying conservation values of particular areas proposed for exploration. In fact, MBIE officials were so unconcerned with conservation that they initially proposed including areas of schedule 4 land (which they would not grant permits for) in the offer simply to get pretty lines on the map:
While some small areas of Schedule 4 land have been included the release areas, this has been done so to maintain the integrity of the release areas for the tender process. No permits will be awarded over Schedule 4 land, World Heritage site or marine reserves.
[Briefing on Release of areas for consultation for Block Offer 2014, p 16 of response]
The Minister did at least realise how this would look, and squashed the idea immediately.
What about other conservation areas? A paper to the Cabinet Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee [p. 30] makes their attitude clear:
While some of the proposed release areas do intersect marine mammal sanctuaries, as petroleum exploration activities are not incompatible with these sanctuaries, they have been included in the proposed release areas. Similarly, seamount closures and Benthic Protection Areas have also been included in the release areas as their restrictions only apply to fishing related activities.
In addition, the environmental effects of petroleum related activities are considered by different parts of the regulatory framework (such as the Resource Management Act 1991 and the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012) from those that are concerned with the allocation of rights through the issuing of permits.
Basically, as far as MBIE is concerned, conservation simply isn't their problem.
But that wasn't the only interesting thing to come to light. As part of the process, the Minister was required to consult with iwi about the areas proposed for release. Their submissions were then summarily ignored [p. 56]:
A total of 22 requests to protect certain areas or amendments to the consultation were received. These include 11 requests from iwi and hapu, and 11 from local authorities.
Officials have analysed these requests and, with regard to the majority of sites of sensitivity identified, officials consider that the best way to address concerns is to include sites within Block Offer 2014 and to then encourage and facilitate engagement between iwi and hapu and petroleum companies to find their own solutions for avoiding or minimising any impacts of petroleum exploration activities on or near sites of significance.
A small number of changes were made (most notably the exclusion of the Kaikoura Marine Mammal Sanctuary), but again the attitude is that it is simply not their problem. Whether this is consistent with the government's duties as a treaty partner is left as an exercise for the reader.
Overall, the message is clear: MBIE doesn't care about conservation, or about the Treaty. For them, the "right" of foreign oil companies to drill where-ever they want trumps everything.