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Questions about the EEZ Act

This page provides detailed information on the Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 and regulations under the Act. It includes responsibilities and transitional provisions.

What is the EEZ Act and what does it do?

The Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 (the EEZ Act) is a law that regulates activities taking place in New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

The legislation allows for regulations to be made under it, which classify particular types of activities and can set conditions relating to those activities.

Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 [New Zealand Legislation website]

When did the EEZ Act come into force?

The EEZ Act came into force on 28 June 2013 when the first set of regulations was made under the Act.

What geographical area is covered by the EEZ Act?

The EEZ Act applies to:

  • New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which is the area of ocean extending from 12 to 200 nautical miles from shore and the seabed and subsoil
  • the continental shelf (the seabed and subsoil of submarine areas extending out to the continental margin).

Together New Zealand’s EEZ and continental shelf are one of the largest in the world and are almost 20 times the size of New Zealand’s land mass.

Activities occurring in the coastal marine area (the area within 12 nautical miles from shore) are not covered by the EEZ Act. Environmental effects of activities in this area are regulated under the Resource Management Act 1991.

What activities and effects are covered by the EEZ Act?

The legislation applies to a specific list of activities that cause environmental effects in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or continental shelf that were not previously regulated for their environmental effects. This includes some aspects of seabed mining and petroleum exploration and extraction, energy generation, carbon capture and storage and marine farming. The full list of activities is set out in section 20 of the EEZ Act. In the EEZ Act, an “effect” refers to:

  • any positive or adverse effect; and
  • any temporary or permanent effect; and
  • any past, present, or future effect; and
  • any cumulative effect that arises over time or in combination with other effects; and
  • any potential effect of high probability; and
  • any potential effect of low probability that has a high potential impact.

The EEZ Act covers effects of activities described in section 20 on both the environment and on existing interests (other users of the marine environment).

How does the EEZ Act interact with existing regulation in the EEZ?

The legislation does not override existing regulation; but fills the gaps in the regulation of the EEZ and continental shelf. For example:

  • the environmental effects of fishing are already regulated under the Fisheries Act 1996
  • the management of health and safety risks and inspections of offshore petroleum structures are covered by the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992
  • marine pollution issues such as oil spills are covered by Marine Protection Rules under the Maritime Transport Act 1994.

Other legislation applicable in the EEZ includes:

  • the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978, which makes provision for the protection, conservation, and management of marine mammals within New Zealand and within New Zealand fisheries waters
  • the Wildlife Act 1953, which relates to the protection and control of wild animals and birds
  • the Biosecurity Act 1993, which provides for the management of biosecurity risks in the EEZ
  • the Crown Minerals Act 1991 and Continental Shelf Act 1964, which relate to the allocation of permits for prospecting, exploration and extraction.

Who is responsible for functions under the EEZ Act?

The Ministry for the Environment is responsible for the legislation, development of regulations and for providing policy advice on the legislation.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) will make decisions on consent applications, and will be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the legislation including monitoring and enforcement.

Environmental Protection Authority [Environmental Protection Authority website]

Who makes decisions about how to classify activities under the EEZ Act?

The Minister for the Environment can recommend to the Governor-General that regulations be made to classify an activity.

What activities have already been classified under the EEZ Act?

The first set of regulations under the EEZ Act came into force on 28 June 2013, and covered section 20 activities carried out as part of:

  • seismic surveying
  • prospecting and exploration phases of seabed mineral mining and petroleum (excluding exploratory oil and gas drilling)
  • submarine cabling
  • marine scientific research.

The second set of regulations, covering exploratory oil and gas drilling, came into force on 28 February 2014.

Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects - Non-Notified Activities) Regulations 2014 [New Zealand Legislation website]

Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects—Permitted Activities) Regulations 2013 [New Zealand Legislation website]

What activities are proposed to be classified under the EEZ Act?

The Government is currently consulting on how to classify and regulate the discharge of harmful substances and the dumping of waste. You can find out more about the proposed regulations by reading the supporting information accompanying the draft regulations.

Draft Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects – Discharge and Dumping) Regulations 2014  (PDF 158.92 KB)

Supporting information for the exposure draft of proposed regulations for discharge and dumping activities under the EEZ Act

What is the relationship between the EEZ Act and regulations?

The EEZ Act enables regulations to be made to classify activities and set out more specific standards and requirements.

The Government intends that regulation of activities is: proportionate to their likely environmental effect and the effect on existing interests; cost effective; and consistent with our international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Has the EEZ Act changed since it was introduced?

One amendment to the EEZ Act has been passed by Parliament. This is referred to as the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Amendment Act 2013 (the EEZ Amendment Act). It became law on 22 October 2013, and certain parts came into force on 28 February 2014.

The EEZ Amendment Act introduced a non-notified discretionary classification which came into effect on 28 February 2014. It also transfers the discharge of harmful substances and the dumping of waste from the Maritime Transport Act 1994 to the EEZ Act; this change will take effect when regulations are made under the EEZ Act to classify the discharge and dumping activities.

How can activities be classified under the EEZ Act?

To do this, the legislation allows the regulations to classify activities, or the effects of activities, as:

    • Permitted – the activity can be undertaken provided the operator meets conditions specified in regulations
    • Non-notified discretionary – the activity can be undertaken if the applicant obtains a marine consent from the EPA. The EPA may grant or decline marine consent and place conditions on the marine consent. The marine consent application will not be publicly notified and has statutory timeframes adding up to 60 working days in which the EPA must decide the consent
    • Discretionary – activities can be undertaken if applicants obtain a marine consent from the EPA, the EPA may grant or decline a marine consent and place conditions on the marine consent. The consent application will be publicly notified, submissions will be invited, and hearings will be held if requested by any party including submitters. The process has statutory timeframes adding up to 140 working days in which the EPA must assess the consent
    • Prohibited – the activity may not be undertaken.

How will the marine consent process work?

Activities classified as permitted do not require marine consents.

Marine consents will be required for discretionary and non-notified discretionary activities. The discretionary activity classification is the default for activities that are not permitted, non-notified discretionary or prohibited.

All marine consent applicants will be required to prepare an impact assessment identifying the effects on the environment and existing interests of the proposed activity. The impact assessment will also specify measures that will be taken (if consent is granted) to avoid, remedy or mitigate the adverse effects.

Applications for discretionary activities will be publicly notified and submissions will be invited. For discretionary activities, hearings will be held if requested by any party including submitters.

For non-notified discretionary activities, the EPA may hold a hearing with applicants or other parties to gain further information on the application.

The EPA is the decision-maker on marine consents.

What will the EPA consider when making decisions on marine consents?

The EPA must consider a number of factors when making decisions on marine consent applications to achieve the purpose of the Act. These are:

    • any effects on the environment or existing interests of allowing the activity, including:
      • cumulative effects
      • effects that may occur in New Zealand or in the waters above or beyond the continental shelf beyond the outer limits of the exclusive economic zone
    • the effects on the environment or existing interests of other activities undertaken in the area covered by the application or in its vicinity, including:
      • the effects of activities that are not regulated under this Act
      • effects that may occur in New Zealand or in the waters above or beyond the continental shelf beyond the outer limits of the exclusive economic zone
    • the effects on human health that may arise from effects on the environment
    • the importance of protecting the biological diversity and integrity of marine species, ecosystems, and processes
    • the importance of protecting rare and vulnerable ecosystems and the habitats of threatened species
    • the economic benefit to New Zealand of allowing the application
    • the efficient use and development of natural resources
    • the nature and effect of other marine management regimes
    • best practice in relation to an industry or activity
    • the extent to which imposing conditions might avoid, remedy, or mitigate the adverse effects of the activity
    • relevant regulations
    • any other applicable law
    • any other matter the EPA considers relevant and reasonably necessary to determine the application
    • any submissions made and evidence given in relation to the application for discretionary activities
    • any advice, reports, or information the EPA has sought and received in relation to the application
    • any advice received from the EPA’s Māori Advisory Committee.

Note that the factors to be considered when making decisions on marine consents for discharge and dumping activities (once these are classified under the Act) are different to the ones above.

How does the legislation provide for the Treaty relationship?

The legislation explicitly recognises the Crown’s responsibility to give effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi (section 12 of the EEZ Act). Also, the following provisions exist for Treaty and Māori interests to be recognised, and for Māori to participate in the marine consent process:

    • The EPA’s Māori Advisory Committee is able to provide advice and assistance to the EPA on matters of policy, process and decision-making.
    • The EPA Act requires at least one member of the EPA to have knowledge and experience relating to the Treaty and tikanga Māori.
    • Along with environmental effects, the consideration of effects on existing interests is a key element of the legislation. Impact assessments (provided with consent applications) will need to identify the impacts on existing interests.
    • The Act will require decision-makers to consider Treaty Settlements, and customary marine title granted under the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011.
    • There will be public notification of discretionary marine consent applications
    • Copies of applications will be served to iwi authorities and marine customary title holders likely to be affected by a non-notified discretionary marine consent application.
    • The Minister is required to establish and use a process that gives iwi adequate time and opportunity to comment on the subject matter of proposed standards and regulations.

Treaty of Waitangi [Waitangi Tribunal website]

How does the legislation deal with the lack of comprehensive environmental information in the EEZ?

The decision-making framework for the legislation acknowledges that there is limited information about the EEZ and continental shelf environment and the new technologies which may be employed there. Decision-makers are required to take into account the best available information, consider any uncertainty or insufficiency in the available information and exercise caution when information is uncertain or insufficient.

What appeal rights does the legislation provide?

There are appeal rights on points of law to the High Court against the decision to grant or decline a discretionary marine consent, the conditions placed on a marine consent, and any decision to review or cancel a marine consent. Applicants and submitters may appeal decisions on discretionary marine consents, and applicants may appeal decisions on non-notified discretionary marine consents.

Does local government have any role under the new legislation?

The Act will not alter regional councils’ functions in the territorial sea under the RMA. Where an activity spans the boundary between the territorial sea and EEZ, the legislation will provide for joint decision-making between the regional council (under the RMA) and EPA (under the Act). Additionally, the Minister for the Environment is required to notify regional councils when developing regulations and the EPA is required to notify regional councils whose regions may be affected by a specific application for a discretionary marine consent.

Resource Management Act 1991 [New Zealand Legislation website]

Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 [New Zealand Legislation website]

 

Questions about the transitional provisions

Were there interim arrangements before the EEZ Act came into force?

Some new oil and gas exploration activity occurred in the EEZ or continental shelf before the legislation took effect. To manage the potential risks in this interim period, a voluntary regime was put in place. It foreshadowed the requirements that have now come into effect under the Act.

How do the transitional provisions under the EEZ Act work?

An existing or planned activity may be covered under transitional provisions.

If an activity is an existing petroleum mining activity involving structures or pipelines, the activity may continue without a marine consent for the term of the mining permit, unless an associated activity is undertaken such as:

    • placing a structure or drilling a well, that had not commenced before the Act comes into force; or
    • an activity that results in a change in the character, intensity or scale of the activity; or
    • the alteration, extension, removal, or demolition of an existing structure or existing submarine pipeline associated with the activity.

If any of the above associated activities are undertaken, the EPA must provide a ruling to the effect that the adverse effects on the environment or existing interests of the activity is likely to be minor or less than minor for the associated activity to commence without a marine consent.

Other transitional provisions give operators a period of time to transition into the Act. Operators may continue their activity for a specified amount of time without a marine consent (the transitional period) after which time they must submit a complete application for a marine consent or stop the activity. If they apply for a marine consent within the transitional period they can continue the activity without a marine consent until the application is decided and any appeals determined. Transitional provisions apply if:

    • the activity is an existing activity when the Act comes into force
      Note: the transitional period lasts 6 months until 28 December 2013.
    • the activity is an existing petroleum activity when the Act comes into force
      Note: the transitional period lasts 6 months until 28 December 2013, and the operator must submit an impact assessment to the EPA within 2 months of the Act coming into force.
    • the activity is a planned petroleum activity when the Act comes into force (ie, it has a current CMA permit).
      Note: the transitional period lasts 12 months until 28 June 2014, and the operator must submit an impact assessment to the EPA before the activity commences.

If any mineral prospecting or exploration activity that requires a marine consent under the Act has been authorised by a Continental Shelf licence before the Act came into force then it may commence and/or continue without a marine consent.

What do the transitional arrangements mean for petroleum exploration activities?

Any planned exploratory drilling for oil and gas activities may commence up until 27 June 2014 without a marine consent as long as they have a CMA permit and provide an impact assessment to the EPA.

Exploratory drilling activities that commence prior to 27 June 2014 can continue after 27 June 2014, provided the operator has either received a marine consent for the activity, or applied for a marine consent prior to 27 June 2014 and the marine consent is under consideration by the EPA.

Any exploratory drilling for oil and gas that is planned to commence from 28 June 2014 onward will not be covered by the transitional arrangements and so operators will need to have obtained a marine consent prior to commencing their exploratory drilling activity.

What are the transitional arrangements for discharges and dumping?

Applications made to Maritime New Zealand for a discharge management plan or dumping permit before the discharge and dumping regulations are in force will be considered and decided upon under the Maritime Transport Act. When the discharge and dumping aspects of the EEZ Act come into force, the affected parts of current permits and plans will be deemed to be marine discharge and marine dumping consents under the EEZ Act, and subject to the EPA's monitoring and enforcement under that legislation.

Any applications made after the discharge and dumping aspects of the EEZ Act are in force will be considered by the EPA.

Any legal proceedings which relate to the affected part of a permit or consent (as it may be by that point) will be subject to the law that was in force when the action that gave rise to the proceedings occurred.

 

Questions about the non-notified discretionary classification

Why is non-notified discretionary classification needed now?

During the policy development for regulations under the EEZ Act, it became clear that the available classifications in the Act (permitted, discretionary and prohibited) did not provide a regulatory option suitable for activities that are routine, of brief duration or exploratory in nature (for example certain discharges, dumping activities and exploratory drilling). These activities require regulatory oversight but also require processing times and compliance costs that are proportionate to the effects of these activities. Neither the permitted or discretionary classifications provided for this.

Who decides if an activity is non-notified discretionary?

The Minister for the Environment can recommend to the Governor-General that regulations be made to classify an activity as non-notified discretionary.

Will the public be able to have a say about what activities are classified as non-notified discretionary?

Yes, the EEZ Act requires the Minister for the Environment to consult the public on the proposed content of any regulations under the Act. For example, two rounds of consultation were recently carried out regarding the classification of exploratory drilling for oil and gas. The first round was in August-September 2013, when the policy was proposed. The second round was in December 2013 – January 2014, when an exposure draft of regulations was released.

Who decides whether to approve applications for non-notified discretionary activities?

Operators will apply to the EPA for a marine consent to undertake a non-notified discretionary activity. The EPA will decide whether to decline or approve the application and whether to set any conditions on the approval, such as monitoring and reporting conditions.

What activities have been classified as non-notified discretionary?

To date, the only activities to be classified as non-notified discretionary are section 20 activities that are involved in exploratory drilling for oil and gas.

What activities are proposed to be classified as non-notified discretionary?

The Government is currently consulting on proposed regulations for the discharge of harmful substances and the dumping of waste. Some discharge and dumping activities are proposed to be classified as non-notified discretionary. 

You can find out more about the proposed regulations by reading the supporting information accompanying the draft regulations.


Draft Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects – Discharge and Dumping) Regulations 2014 (PDF, 158.92 KB)

Supporting information for the exposure draft of proposed regulations for discharge and dumping activities under the EEZ Act

 

Find out more

Ministers’ media releases

Legislation

 

Last updated: 4 March 2014