New Zealand to Offer Exploration Permits in Northland

The New Zealand government plans to award oil and gas exploration permits for five blocks encompassing the Northland Basin offshore the western top half of the country's North Island.

Associate Energy Minister Harry Duynhoven made the announcement during a keynote speech Monday to the 2004 New Zealand Petroleum Conference in Auckland.

Research by New Zealand's Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences on the Northland basin suggests "there is significant potential for North Sea-sized oil and gas fields to be present," Duynhoven said.

Six "petroleum systems" - geological formations that could contain oil - are known to be present in the Northland Basin, according to Ministry of Economic & Development data.

Data on the basin's petroleum geology will be made available to prospective bidders over the next few weeks. Bids will close Dec. 15.

Additional permits for oil and gas exploration blocks in Taranaki and the east coast of the North Island will be offered in about a year's time, Duynhoven said.

The government is trying to encourage more oil and gas exploration around New Zealand because the giant offshore Maui gas field, which provides about three quarters of the country's gas, is expected to be depleted in 2007.