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Greens cite potential for seabed mineral claims

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
David Clendon
David Clendon

Wellington, July 22 NZPA - The Green Party warned today the ownership of New Zealand's oil outside the 12 nautical mile limit may turn out to be the "biggest Maori land grab in New Zealand history".

Maori Affairs spokesman David Clendon said a Crown Minerals official told the Waitangi Tribunal's "management of the petroleum resource" inquiry in April that the Petroleum Act 1937 only nationalised oil in the territorial sea, which stops at 12 nautical miles from shore.

Until then, the common view was that the Crown owned the minerals, oil and gas and other resources on the seabed, as it does on dry land.

In 2008 New Zealand took control over a further 1.7 million sq km of seabed -- outside the existing 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) -- on the continental shelf around the mainland and its main islands.

Those rights stretch in some places 563km from shore over billions of dollars worth of minerals and biological resources on the seabed.

But Mr Clendon said Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee today told Parliament the Government's management of oil and gas reserved now extended over the entire EEZ, and that he would not consider a claim of customary title from Te Aupouri over the seabed off Cape Reinga.

A big multinational energy explorers' focus on New Zealand's 10 offshore petroleum basins, Crown Minerals' chief petroleum geologists, Dr Richard Cook, has predicted oil and gas yet to be discovered could be key drivers of the economy.

Oil company offers for the Reinga and Northland basins out from Cape Reinga are due to close on August 18.

Mr Brownlee today declined to comment directly on Crown Minerals' testimony to the Waitangi Tribunal that the Crown had an obligation under international law and the Treaty of Waitangi to investigate claims of customary rights.

Instead, he said the Crown was the only legal person that had any right to explore, exploit, conserve, and manage natural resources on the continental shelf.

"All rights that are exercisable by New Zealand in respect of the continental shelf and its natural resources for the purposes of exploring the shelf and exploiting its resources are vested in the Crown," he said.

He did not agree that the Crown did not own oil in the EEZ, and when asked if he ruled out paying compensation to iwi for the confiscation of petroleum resources, said he could not bind any future Government.

"Either the Minister is correct, or Crown Minerals is correct," Mr Clendon said outside Parliament. "He cannot have it both ways".

Mr Clendon noted that the Continental Shelf Act specifically excluded the ownership provisions of the Crown Minerals Act.

Other critics of the Government's plan to repeal Labour's 2004 seabed and foreshore legislation -- which preserved the seabed as unalienable and a common heritage of all New Zealanders via Crown ownership and management -- have previously raised concerns about major compensation claims by all coastal iwi.

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