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Pressure is mounting for the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to hold a public hearing into Austrian oil giant OMV’s application to carry out high risk oil drilling in the Great South Basin.

OMV has quietly lodged the exploratory drilling application with the EPA, which will then make a behind-closed-doors decision on it over the next month.

However, Greenpeace is calling on the EPA to use the discretion granted to it under New Zealand law and make the application public. The Authority is able to do so if it deems the issue “necessary or desirable”.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner, Amanda Larsson, says OMV’s drilling plans off the Otago coast are high risk and at extreme depths.

“The impacts of this kind of drilling, alongside the severe consequence of potential spills on the marine environment make this an issue of high public interest, and therefore a public hearing is both necessary and desirable,” she says.

“We’re talking about the riskiest kind of oil drilling on the planet being carried out in wild and pristine stretches of our ocean, in the middle of a climate emergency.  A spill here could see oil washing up on New Zealand’s beaches, and cause immense suffering for our wildlife.”

Greenpeace has written a letter to the decision-making committee at the EPA urging them to make the process public. The environmental organisation is calling on people to sign onto the letter.

A public  hearing on the matter would see any impact analysis done by OMV, including oil spill maps, disaster plans, and marine mammal assessments, released.

Larsson says the application process for proposed offshore oil and gas exploration in New Zealand is flawed.

“As well as there being no requirement for any public input into drill applications that pose high risk in the case of an accident or spill; climate impacts are expressly prohibited from being considered as part of the assessment criteria,” she says.

“As it stands, local communities, iwi, scientists and local businesses have no formal say on whether oil and gas exploration is allowed to go ahead in their region.

“This OMV application is being considered on the backdrop of a history-making, student-led movement that saw 170,000 people around New Zealand go on strike for the climate last Friday.

“The fact that 3.5% of the New Zealand population took part in the strikes is evidence that there is deep engagement here on matters of the climate and environment. New Zealanders deserve to be consulted on whether massive new oil and gas drilling projects go ahead.”