Opponents of oil and gas drilling off the North Island's East Cape are supporting a bill that would increase environmental controls over exploration companies.
A company planning to explore for phosphate offshore says it also welcomes the legislation, announced by the Environment Minister, Nick Smith, on Thursday.
He said the bill that would require companies to apply for exploration consent through the Environmental Protection Authority. The law would work like the Resource Management Act, with activities classified as either permitted, discretionary or prohibited.
The chairman of the Environmental Protection Society, Gary Taylor, says he's pleased with the announcement.
Mr Taylor says oil and gas exploration was the most urgent marine matter requiring Government attention. But he says other issues such as marine mammal protection and aquaculture also need reviewing.
Chatham Rock Phosphate managing director Chris Castle says the new law will help his firm explore for phosphate on the Chatham Island rise, about 450km east of Christchurch.
He said there is currently no legislation covering the area the company wants to operate in, and under the proposals a framework would be in place for the company's application and exploration work.
The Minister says the bill will cover an area of ocean 20 times the size of New Zealand and include Antarctic waters.
Dr Smith says the plan will allow the public to have a say. Applications will be subject to public submissions, and consents would require an assessment of environmental impacts.
He says other activities falling under the legislation could include fishing and energy generation. However, operators such as commercial fishing companies that are awarded quotas under other legislation would not have to apply for consents under the new law.
Dr Smith hopes the bill will be introduced into Parliament next month, with the law coming into effect in July 2012.