High Court rules that abatement notices served on BWO remain in place

07 April 2020

The High Court has granted the EPA’s request for an interim stay of an Environment Court decision that stopped abatement notices issued to BW Offshore (BWO) from taking effect.

The High Court decision means the abatement notices issued by the EPA remain in place.

BWO had commenced activities to disconnect its vessel and remove it from the Tui oil field but the EPA served abatement notices to stop it doing so.

BWO appealed the issue of the abatement notices and asked the Environment Court to urgently stay the abatement notices until their appeal could be heard, meaning that BWO would remain free to continue its disconnection activities in the meantime. The Environment Court granted that stay on 26 March 2020.

On 27 March the EPA appealed that decision to the High Court. The EPA also asked the High Court for an interim stay of the Environment Court’s decision to stay the abatement notices, until the EPA’s appeal was able to be heard. That application was heard by the High Court, under urgency, on 6 April via teleconference.

The substantive appeal of the abatement notices in the Environment Court is yet to be heard.

High Court judgement confirms EPA’s approach

In his decision released today, His Honour Justice Cooke said the EPA had taken the appropriate action contemplated by the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 (EEZ Act).

Justice Cooke noted that the EEZ Act is not concerned with legal ownership of the equipment. “It (the Act) is only concerned with the effect of those activities on the environment and existing interests.”

“Parties engaged in significant oil mining activities need to ensure that those activities are appropriately brought to an end from an environmental point of view (as well as the point of view of the other existing interests contemplated by the Act) before departing the scene. That is saying no more than people must tidy up any activity before they leave.”

Background – EPA took compliance action in March 2020

The EPA began compliance action against BWO in March 2020 after BWO began work to disconnect its vessel from the oil wells that have been operated by Tamarind Taranaki Limited (TTL) off the coast of Taranaki.

Before removing the vessel, BWO needs to disconnect it from equipment on the seafloor.

On 17 March 2020 the EPA served four abatement notices on BWO prohibiting BWO from undertaking activities to disconnect the vessel.

BWO asked the Environment Court to stop the effect of the abatement notices, by seeking a stay, until the appeal against them is determined.

The Environment Court decided in BWO’s favour and granted a stay of the abatement notices. The EPA appealed the Environment Court’s decision.

Read more about the abatement notices

Read background information on Tamarind Taranaki Limited and BW Offshore