Official documents show the Government did not consider safety or the environment when awarding a large oil and gas exploration permit off East Cape.
The reports obtained by Radio New Zealand under the Official Information Act show Petrobras of Brazil was awarded the permit two months ago without environmental scrutiny.
The decision was made on technical and economic grounds, and required the company only to show it would use good oilfield practices.
Petrobras has since reportedly had a small fire on an oil rig and another has been closed for safety problems.
Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee says there is no need to consider specific environmental requirements until drilling begins.
Mr Brownlee says two more blocks of seabed will be awarded using just technical and economic criteria.
But the Environmental Defence Society says officials appear to have learned nothing from the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
EDS says there should be a moratorium on future permits until new rules are in place.
Offers for the Northland and Reinga blocks at the top of the North Island closed on Wednesday. They comprise 150,000 square km of seabed.