Backgrounder on Deepsea Oil High Court Case

Press release - December 6, 2013
The government’s decision to allow Texan oil company Anadarko to drill in New Zealand waters is scheduled to face a judicial review in the High Court on Monday 9 December at 10am.

The hearing will examine whether it was lawful for the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to register Anadarko’s Environmental Impact Assessment for drilling activities as ‘complete’, thereby giving the ‘green light’ for drilling, without having seen eight key documents. Lawyers for Greenpeace will argue that this was unlawful.

Anadarko’s emergency oil spill response plan and the company’s own oil spill modelling report are two of the eight missing documents. Neither of these two documents have so far been publicly released, despite being requested in Parliament and through Official Information Requests.

The eight documents are part of the Discharge Management Plan, which is a section of the Environmental Impact Assessment.

Minister for Energy and Resources Simon Bridges has repeatedly claimed that exploratory deepwater drilling “is a highly regulated area where we put businesses like Anadarko through the wringer” [1].

The newly-formed EPA, created in June 2012, is the lead agency responsible for overseeing this ‘wringer’. “New Zealand deserves no less than a world-class regulatory system that reflects our environmental values in conjunction with our economic interests. The Environmental Protection Authority, which this bill establishes, will do just that” [2], the government has said.

The High Court hearing is expected to see government lawyers arguing that it was acceptable for the EPA to have allowed Anadarko to drill without having seen the eight key documents.

This raises the prospect of the High Court witnessing government lawyers contradicting the above claims made by the energy minister and the government.

Greenpeace has repeatedly submitted that the process is too permissive and contrary to international obligations to “protect and preserve” the environment, as it fails to provide adequate protection for our oceans and the communities and local economies that depend on them.

Here’s a timeline, showing key developments:

13 September: Anadarko lodge their Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), minus the eight missing documents, with the EPA.

26 September: the EPA notify Anadarko that the oil company’s Environmental Impact Assessment for drilling activities is ‘complete’, thereby signalling their consent for drilling. The eight documents, including vital information about the oil spill modelling are, however, missing from the documents assessed by the EPA.

1 October: Maritime New Zealand confirm that it is still assessing crucial information about Anadarko's proposed drilling activities which will form part of the Discharge Management Plan.

24 October: Simon Bridges states in the House, in response to a question from the Greens concerning the oil spill documents: “They are not publicly available in the sense that they are there on websites necessarily for everyone to see. But they are, through Official Information Act and other processes, able to be obtained.”

25 October: Greenpeace submit an Official Information Act request for the above information from Maritime New Zealand.

26 October: Anadarko’s drillship the Noble Bob Douglas leaves Korean shipyard destined for New Zealand.

15 November: Maritime New Zealand confirms that they have signed off the Discharge Management Plan.

18 November: Maritime New Zealand declines the OIA request, asking for an extension to 13 December, the day after Parliament goes into recess.

19 November: Anadarko drillship the Noble Bob Douglas arrives at the location where they propose to drill, around 100 nautical miles off the west coast.

21 November: the Minister for Environment Amy Adams confirms that she is “advised by the authority [the EPA] 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” [3].

26 November: Anadarko announces that it has started drilling activities. Greenpeace file papers at the High Court requesting a judicial review.


The eight documents are:

1.     Vessel Documents

2.     Baseline Environment

3.     Drill Cuttings Dispersion Modelling

4.     Oil Spill Modelling Reports

5.     Emergency Oil Spill Response Plan / Oil Spill Contingency (including Ship Oil Pollution Emergency Plan)

6.     Well Control Contingency Plan (Well Control and Source Control Emergency Response Plan, Logistics Plan)

7.     Environmental Monitoring for Exploration Activities

8.     Marine Protection Rules Part 170 Appendix