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Environmental legislation - onshore & within 12 nm

Environment management & Councils

The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) is the cornerstone legislation for environmental matters in New Zealand. In relation to O&G activities, the Act is relevant for activities conducted onshore and also offshore within 12 nautical miles of NZ.

Outside this zone, comprehensive environmental is currently under development by the Ministry for the Environment (MFE) and will be implemented by the newly established Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Learn more here.



The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) promotes the sustainable management of natural or physical resources in New Zealand such as rivers, lakes, coastal and geothermal areas; land, including soils; forests and farmlands; the air; and the constructed environment e.g. buildings, bridges, and other structures in cities and towns.

The RMA is an effects-focused piece of legislation. In other words, it is the environmental effects of the proposed activity that determines whether or not a particular activity can be undertaken, not the activity per se itself. 

To undertake typical petroleum exploration and development activities such as conducting seismic surveys and drilling, and associated activities such as taking water, flaring and clearing vegetation, Councils (the administering body) should be notified and consents to legally undertake these activities may be required in accordance with the RMA.

A resource consent gives permission to use or develop a natural or physical resource, and/or to carry out an activity that affects the environment in some way for a stated period. 


Councils – the administering body

The RMA is administered by local government. These are regional and district (or city) councils and unitary authorities (combined regional and district council) that operate in New Zealand.

New Zealand is divided into 12 regions, four unitary authorities (which function as both regional and district/city councils) and 70 territorial authorities known as district or city councils.  Within each region there are one or more district/city councils. 

List of North Island regions, cities and District here

List of South Island regions, cities and Districts here

Links to all Council web sites here

District/City Councils must prepare, regularly review and administer a District plan that addresses effects as they relate to land use. They include:

  • Avoidance/mitigation of natural hazards
  • Hazardous substances - matters concerning their storage, use, disposal, transportation
  • Subdivision or use of contaminated land
  • Maintenance of indigenous biological diversity
  • Noise
  • Effects of activities relating to the surface of water in rivers and lakes
  • Other functions as specified in the Act

Regional Councils must prepare:

  • a regional policy statement, and  
  • regional plans that focus on effects relating to air, water, soil as well as a coastal plan (out to 12 nm).


Implications for O&G activities

O&G activities will be regulated by various regional and District/City Plans  and these will vary depending on where the O&G activity is taking place in NZ.

  • On shore O&G activities - O&G companies should check the relevant regional plans for water, soil and air, and District/City plans that control land use and their associated effects.
  • Off shore O&G activities out to 12 nm - Companies should check their Regional Coastal plans (and any other aligned regional plans as advised by the Regional Council that could be pertinent). 

A useful ‘everyday’ guide that explains the RMA is here  


When are consents required under the RMA?

To identify if a proposed activity requires resource consent applicants should read the relevant District or regional Plan and/or contact the local council (a regional, district or city council) for assistance with this. 

Sometimes it can be necessary to apply for consents from both City/Districts and also the regional Council. 

The RMA divides activities into six categories:

  • permitted activities – where a resource consent is not required on the basis that the activity is considered to have no/minimal adverse environmental effects. 

  • controlled activities – a resource consent is required but the council cannot decline the application but may include conditions on how you carry out the activity.

  • discretionary activities - resource consent is required.  Discretionary activities are subject to the discretion of the council in accordance with criteria laid out in the plan.

  • restricted or limited discretionary activities – a resource consent is required. The council may approve (usually with conditions), or decline the application.

  • non-complying activities - a resource consent is required.  The council may approve (usually with conditions), or decline the application. In grating teh application the council must be satisfied that the adverse effects will be no more than minor or the applicantion is not contrary to the objectives and policies of the relevant plan. 

  • prohibited activities – no resource consent can be obtained.  The activity proposed is expressly prohibited in a plan.

If resource consent is required, they will be categorised as follows:

  • land use consent;
  • subdivision consent;
  • water permit;
  • discharge permit; and
  • coastal permit.

It's worth knowing that:

  • If the proposed activities relates to land use, a consent is not required unless the district plan specifically requires consent. 
  • Consent, however, is required for the use of water and discharges unless the plan permits it without consent. 


Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE’s)

An application for a resource consent will need to include an "assessment of environmental effects" (an AEE report).  

The AEE statement ensures that the applicant has identified the possible impacts that the activity may have on the environment and what steps the applicant has taken in project design to mitigate the effects. 

Potential effects associated with onshore seismic operations and appraisal drilling may include, for example:

  • The noise and/or light from the activity
  • its disturbance to people living in the area or livestock,
  • removal of vegetation and possible impacts on land stability or its  productivity,
  • increase in traffic movements and effects on roads and the users of those road users,
  • use of hazardous chemicals and possible environmental effects relating to storage, transportation etc.

Mitigation measures may include for example:

  • Selection of a site as unobtrusive as possible with minimal visual intrusion,
  • Route selection and planning to minimise ground disturbance,
  • Consideration of water and waste collection, treatment and disposal options
  • Cladding to reduce noise.
  • Consideration of activity timing to minimise disturbance e.g. noise, traffic.

Useful stuff:


Consultation Requirements

The Council will determine whether the consent application needs to be notified either publically or on a limited basis (e.g. to those deemed the affected parties) to provide opportunity for formal response to the proposed activity.

Any person notified can make a submission on the application and participate in any pre-hearing meetings or request a hearing and be represented. For more information refer to RMA s 96-100 


Consent process and timelines

Under the RMA, the consenting process is clearly defined and there are timelines attached to the steps.

Once the application (including the AEE) is lodged by the applicant, the Council has 5 working days to check it for completeness. If not considered complete, then it must be returned to the applicant with an explanation, so they have the opportunity to amend and relodge.

If complete, then it will be assessed vis-a-vis the Council's plans, classifications, scale and effects of the activity. A decision regarding notification must be made within 10 working days after lodging.

If the effects are considered minor and written approvals of affected parties have been acquired, then a non-notified route is usually adopted. 

If the activity has adverse effects (minor or more than minor), consent has not been acquired in writing by all affected parties, then notification (either public or limited) is usually instigated by the Council. Submissions must be received within 20 working days.

A hearing, pre-hearing or mediation may be held involving submitters. If a hearing is held, then a decision regaridng the activity must be made within 15 working days after it closes.

  • If the process is non-notified, the application is well written and no hearing is required, then decisions can be made within 20 working days.
  • Those requiring notification/limited notification but no hearing, the process may take approximately 50 days.
  • If a hearing is required, then the process can take 70-85 days.

A resource consenting process summary covering matters such as information requirements, timeframes, costs, the assessment procedure, procedures in event of decline, as well as matters such as transfers is here.


Flow charts for the consenting process (downloads)

  • Non-notified application consent flow chart is here
  • Notified/limited-notified consent flow chart is here, as well as additional detail here


Taranaki’s structure and approach to the RMA

Every region or district/city will have its own resource management issues, and its own way of dealing with them.  Therefore within New Zealand there will tend to be differing approaches towards the handling of petroleum exploration activities within communities. There is no standard rule of thumb.

Within the Taranaki region, where the majority of exploration occurs, there are three District Councils (New Plymouth District, Stratford and South Taranaki) and a regional Council (Taranaki regional Council). These organisations have extensive experience in relation to administering the RMA and Council staff  are well vested in terms of assisting with O&G companies with regulatory matters.

Taranaki Regional Council

New Plymouth District Council

Stratford District Council

South Taranaki District Council


Central Government Responsibilities

The RMA confers some important responsibilities on the Minister for the Environment. These include:

  • National policy statements and national environmental standards
  • Matters of national significance
  • Monitoring the implementation of the RMA

For more information


Environmental effects in EEZ/ECS

The RMA does not apply beyond the 12 nm limit of New Zealand's territorial seas, however comprehensive environmental legislation is currently under development.

View legislation and contact the EPA on these new environmental developments.