A total of 17 companies have lodged bids for the exploration blocks, which cover 12,772 square kilometers and are located on the Taranaki province on the west of the country's North Island and offshore Taranaki.
Successful bidders are likely to be announced in January.
Duynhoven said in a statement that the earlier-than-expected depletion of the Maui gas field and projected rise in demand for gas for electricity generation has been pushing up gas prices. "The current environment for explorers in New Zealand is better than at any time in 30 years," he said. Maui, which provides about 70% of the country's gas needs, is expected to run dry in 2007.
The bids represent about NZ$200 million of exploration work.
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