New Zealand's Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has an environmental auditing role for reviewing government systems that manage the allocation, use and preservation of petroleum reserves and the performance of public authorities in implementing the systems.

The functions and powers of the Commissioner under the Environment Act are explained.

The Commissioner has audited proposals for a new offshore gas platform and has reviewed current administrative arrangements for dealing with oil spills. In carrying out these investigations a number of deficiencies in government policies and legislation were noted.

A lack of criteria whereby governments make decisions on resource allocations is of concern. Government responsibility for policy decisions which address the effects of petroleum extraction and use needs to be made explicit so that effective planning for exploration and production can take place. The desirability of governments, rather than the industry, setting depletion rates is discussed.

A fragmentation of responsibility between central government, local government and the industry, together with a lack of resources, had disadvantaged effective planning for preventing and containing oil spills in New Zealand.

These issues are discussed with respect to where responsibility should lie and where legislative and regulatory control are desirable.

Communication and cooperation between all affected groups including the public is an important aspect of effective environmental planning and management by public authorities. Advice from the Commissioner on how environmental administration could be improved is identified.

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