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Gareth Hughes to the Minister for the Environment on allegations of improper EPA process

Is the Minister for the Environment satisfied that the Environmental Protection Authority has done its job, when it has signed off on Anadarko’s well without having the full facts in front of it about potential environmental effects from a spill?
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GARETH HUGHES to the Minister for the Environment: Did the Environmental Protection Authority assess the full version of Anadarko's Discharge Management Plan and Emergency Response Plan as part of its evaluation of the company's Environmental Impact Assessment for the Deepwater Taranaki Well; if not, why not?

Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment) :Under the transitional provisions within the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act, which are in effect until July 2014 and which apply to the application in question, the Environmental Protection Authority is required to assess only the completeness of the impact assessment, as set out in section 39, not make a finding on its effectiveness. I note that the Environmental Protection Authority is an independent agency that operates at arm's length from Ministers and, therefore, this matter is entirely operational for the authority. However, I am advised by the authority that although it did not see the version of the discharge management plan that was finally approved by Maritime New Zealand, it does consider that it received sufficient information to satisfy its obligations under section 39 as they apply during the transitional period.

Gareth Hughes: Is the Minister for the Environment satisfied that the Environmental Protection Authority has done its job, when it has signed off on Anadarko's well without having the full facts in front of it about potential environmental effects from a spill?

Hon AMY ADAMS: As the Minister for the Environment, it is not my job to second-guess the independent decisions of the Environmental Protection Authority. But, as I pointed out in my answer to the primary question, it is not the job of the authority while in the transitional period to approve the impact assessment; it is its job to receive and ensure that it is completed. That is very clearly what the legislation says.

Gareth Hughes: Given that legal doubts have been raised, is she confident that the Environmental Protection Authority has fulfilled its statutory obligation to determine that Anadarko's environmental impact assessment was complete, given that it saw only summaries of Anadarko's oil spill modelling and emergency response plan?

Hon AMY ADAMS: I can advise the member that the Environmental Protection Authority has confirmed to me that it considers it has met its statutory obligations.

Gareth Hughes: Has not only the Government kept the public in the dark by suppressing these documents but also the Environmental Protection Authority has kept itself in the dark by not seeking and seeing full versions of Anadarko's oil spill response plans, before giving approval to drill the deepest-ever well in New Zealand's waters?

Hon AMY ADAMS: I can only repeat what I said to the member in response to the earlier questions. The Environmental Protection Authority's obligation during the transitional period is to be satisfied that it has received a complete impact assessment under section 39 of the Act. The advice it has given me is that it is confident that it has received that.

Moana Mackey: Is it still her assertion that deep-sea drilling can be done safely by Anadarko off the coasts of Taranaki and Kaikōura because we have been drilling offshore in Taranaki for decades with no problems, when advice she received a year ago shows that the risk of a reportable incident each year increases from 10 percent at depths that we have drilled in so far to 70 percent at the new deep-water depths proposed for off the coast of Kaikōura?

Hon AMY ADAMS: Yes. It is my view that it can be undertaken safely. That is not to say that there are not risks; of course there are risks, and, yes, risks do increase as you get deeper. We have always been clear about that. But let me be really clear about this: the 70 percent figure, which Mr Cunliffe is toting around the country and whipping up unjustified concern about, is the risk of a reported incident—a reported incident. That includes property damage, it includes accident or injury to workers, and it includes days of being shut down. It is not the indication of a likely oil spill. In fact, the best international information that I have seen tells us that the average rate of spill for deep-water, offshore wells is 2.54 per 1,000 wells, and most of those spills are minor and contained.

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