An environmental umbrella group says New Zealand needs to learn lessons from BP's fine for oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and significantly increase the current "pathetic" penalties.
BP is to pay more than $US4.5 billion to settle criminal charges stemming from the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and subsequent oil spillage in 2010.
Environment and Conservation Organisations of Aotearoa New Zealand (ECO) co-chair Cath Wallace says New Zealand is grossly under-prepared for an environmental disaster.
ECO has more than 60 member organisations.
Dr Wallace says only $10 million could be recovered after the Rena stranding because New Zealand's regulations were well behind the rest of the world.
She says the Government needs to get far more serious about potentially damaging activities
and now is the time to amend the law, as the Crown Minerals Bill is before a select committee.
New Zealand's Petroleum Exploration and Production Association says lessons have been learnt following the Gulf spill and the likelihood of a similar disaster occurring here is extraordinarily unlikely.
But chief executive David Robinson says if there was an incident, it would rest with the company to pay for any clean-up costs.
"The Government can recover the cost from a polluter. The basic rule in New Zealand is that the polluter pays. Certainly we can never eliminate the risks completely but we can get the risks down to an extremely low level."
Mr Robinson says changes have been made since the BP oil spill, and processes in New Zealand are as safe as anywhere else in the world.