New Zealand's petroleum regulators

Oil and gas development in New Zealand is regulated by a series of separate agencies, each with different responsibilities and areas of expertise.

New Zealanders own all petroleum (oil and gas), gold and silver and radioactive minerals in New Zealand. These resources are administered by the Government (the Crown). Additional to those minerals, about half of the coal, metallic and non-metallic minerals, industrial rocks and building stones are publically owned. The Government has rights to all petroleum and minerals in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

The Crown Minerals Act 1991 (CMA), and its associated regulations, governs the allocation rights to these resources and is administered by NZP&M. New Zealand includes not only its land area but also its territorial sea (out to 12 nautical miles from the shore). Under international law, New Zealand also has exclusive rights to petroleum and minerals in the sea bed that extends between 12 nm to 200 nm (known as the Exclusive Economic Zone – ‘EEZ’) and even further, to the extended continental shelf (ECS) (which can extend to a maximum of 350nm offshore).

Under the CMA there are a number of documents of relevance to permit holders:

  • The Minerals Programme for Petroleum 2013 outlines the policies, procedures and provisions to be applied in relation to the allocation and management of petroleum permits granted under the CMA. It also sets out requirements for NZP&M’s statutory obligations with iwi and hapū, including the matters that must be consulted on (such as specified permit applications) and the consultation principles.
  • The Crown Minerals (Petroleum) Regulations 2007 specifies the information that permit/license holders must supply and includes the forms for applying for, transferring and surrendering permits.
  • The Crown Minerals Petroleum Fees Regulations 2006 outlines fees payable for matters specified under the Crown Minerals Act 1991 for petroleum.

When considering a permit application, NZP&M assesses an operator’s technical and financial capability, compliance history and undertakes a preliminary, high level assessment of the operator’s health, safety and environmental capability. NZP&M undertakes consultation with relevant iwi and hapū as part of the permit process.

NZP&M also administers New Zealand’s National Data Repository for petroleum data. This is freely available exploration data, including data acquired by the Government. New exploration results acquired by operators are regularly added and made public after five years or at the expiry of a permit. The repository is made up of an online database and the 2,300m² National Core Store, where samples can be viewed in Featherston, Wairarapa.

The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) is the main piece of legislation that controls the environment effects of activities on land and in New Zealand’s territorial sea (out to 12 nautical miles off the coast).

The Act is administered by the Ministry for the Environment and is implemented by Local and Regional Councils. Local Councils (District or City Councils) focus on the environmental effects of land use activities and Regional Councils address air, water, the coast, pollution and discharges. Regional Councils have jurisdiction in the coastal marine area (out to 12 nautical miles offshore). The Act is designed to carefully weigh economic benefits against potential environmental impacts.

Under the RMA resource consents may be required for petroleum operations depending on the activity taking place and the requirements of the relevant council(s) district or regional plans. Conditions may be attached to a resource consent to avoid, remedy or mitigate any adverse effects associated with the activity. The council monitors compliance with conditions and carries out enforcement, if required.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has three main roles that may relate to petroleum activities.

Under the RMA (onshore and out to 12nm), resource consents for Proposals of National Significance can be lodged with the EPA instead of through councils. This is particularly relevant to projects involving key infrastructure (pipelines etc).

Under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 (EEZ Act), which came into force in 2013, the EPA is responsible for managing the effects of “restricted” activities on the environment in the EEZ (the area between 12 and 200nm of the coast) and New Zealand’s continental shelf.

The EPA considers applications for marine consents (similar to resource consents), monitors compliance and carries out enforcement. Like resource consents, conditions may be attached to a marine consent to avoid, remedy or mitigate any adverse effects associated with the activity.

Discharge of harmful substances and dumping of waste is managed by the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects – Discharge and Dumping) Regulations 2015 administered by the EPA.

New Zealand has a large conservation estate – making up about a third of the land mass – and a number of marine protected areas. A range of marine species are also protected in New Zealand – including a number of whales, native dolphins and the New Zealand sea lion.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is responsible for the conservation estate under the Conservation Act 1987, the Wildlife Act 1953 and Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978. Onshore permission is required from DOC, as the landowner, to carry out activities on conservation land.

Offshore there are six Marine Mammal Sanctuaries around the New Zealand coast (within 12 nautical miles) which prohibit or restrict certain activities. The sanctuaries have their own mandatory regulations for seismic surveying designed to minimise the risk of harm to marine mammals.

DOC has also developed the 2013 Code of conduct for minimising acoustic disturbance to marine mammals from seismic survey operations. The Code is considered one of the most rigorous in the world for protecting marine mammals. The Code is currently under review.

There are requirements under the Maritime Transport Act 1994 which relate to protecting the marine environment from oil spills. Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) is the agency responsible for ensuring an operator has plans in place to manage and respond to oil spills – called an Oil Spill Contingency Plan. This includes a plan to stem the flow of oil in the unlikely event of a well blowout.

MNZ is also responsible for maintaining New Zealand’s oil spill response capability and preparedness, and for coordinating any major, national-level oil spill responses.

In the event of an oil spill, there is a tiered response partnership arrangement that exists between MNZ, Regional Councils and the oil industry (and overseas agencies). Each tier can be escalated to the next depending on size/scale of the event.

  • Tier 1: Industry (ships and off shore oil transfer sites)
  • Tier 2: Regional Councils
  • Tier 3: Maritime New Zealand

Those responsible for each tier are required to prepare contingency plans and a response capability appropriate to their level of responsibility. If the scale of an incident is beyond New Zealand’s local and national capability, MNZ has a network of international organisations and companies it can call upon to assist with resources and expertise.

The Government’s oil spill response capability is funded by an industry levy, the Oil Pollution Levy, which is paid by those sectors whose activities raise the risk of a marine oil spill. In the event of an oil spill, the polluter is liable for all costs associated with the response.

MNZ administers the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 aboard ships.

Workplace safety is regulated by the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, and associated regulations specific to the petroleum sector.

WorkSafe New Zealand is NZ’s workplace health and safety regulator – which was made a stand-alone Crown Entity with a sole focus on workplace health and safety in 2013. It has a specialist High Hazards Unit (HHU) that regulates petroleum, geothermal and minerals mining operations.

In regard to petroleum, WorkSafe is responsible for the rules that ensure workers are kept safe – which includes the requirement to ensure that the risk of a well failure is as low as reasonably practicable. WorkSafe must approve an operator’s Safety Case – which outlines any hazards and the systems to manage them. There is also a range of requirements to ensure a well is managed through its life cycle, including oversight of the design and construction process.

HHU inspectors make onsite inspections over the life-cycle of a petroleum operation.

See the Health and Safety factsheet for an overview of health and safety in extractives industries.

Last updated:
Find this helpful? Give us your feedback