The decision comes as a result of the Government's decision to encourage bids for petroleum exploration permits through freely available, Government-acquired geo-technical data, and as a consequence of recent discussions with North American exploration companies.
Five blocks in the offshore Northland basin were made available for public tender in March this year with a closing date for bids of 15 December 2004.
Cabinet subsequently made a $15M appropriation in September this year to fund the acquisition of new or re-processed seismic data to be made available to bidders for petroleum permits. It also approved additional funding for the Ministry to promote international investment in petroleum exploration in New Zealand.
The Ministry said that the data acquisition fund now considerably widened the potential interest in the Northland blocks, and that data relating to Northland would be made freely available to interested parties.
"There has been a consistent message from the exploration industry that data is critical to hastening development of New Zealand's frontier basins. It therefore would be foolish not to take advantage of the data acquisition fund to maximize interest in the Northland blocks."
The Ministry added that a number of North American exploration companies had expressed interest in New Zealand, particularly Northland, arising from investment promotion work undertaken in Houston and California last month.
"With growing international safety concerns, New Zealand's very attractive fiscal and regulatory regime, and its reputation as a safe and efficient place to do business, has generated renewed interest in frontier exploration here."
The Ministry said that the extension of time to bid on Northland would allow these companies to participate in the tender.
It said that the data acquisition fund would also be used to acquire additional data in other frontier basins, and that these would be incorporated into a combined tender to be completed later next year.
"New Zealand is a relatively under-explored destination, and international explorers are looking for scale and an opportunity to grow their exploration investment. Combining Northland with at least two other basins is likely to generate a level of interest from larger exploration companies that could not achieved by tendering it alone."
The Ministry noted that the additional petroleum basins to be tendered would be determined from seismic studies to be undertaken over the summer with a ministerial announcement on the additional blocks being made some time in the middle of next year.
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