New Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley says the backlash against oil exploration is premature.

"I think it's irresponsible not to explore and get a good sense of what resources New Zealand has. We may not take advantage of them in every case, but it's irrational not to find out what choices we have."

He said the Government has the potential to earn more than $3 billion in royalties alone from oil and gas fields already in production. If the current exploration rate were to increase by 50 per cent that figure could become $12.7 billion.

This doesn't wash with Greenpeace which has launched a hard-hitting advertising campaign hammering the message that an accident at a deepwater well could be a thousand times worse than the Rena spill off the coast of Tauranga.


Climate change campaigner Steve Abels said the organisation would "keep a close eye" on oil companies.

"We're clearly at a point in history where New Zealand can persist with this strategy or ramp up investment in cleaner energy."

On the East Coast near Gisborne, where hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is an option to unlock what could be vast quantities of oil, an iwi group is worried.

Marise Lant, a spokeswoman for local iwi Ngariki Kaiputahi, said she was concerned about the lack of information not only about environmental risks but the boost to the economy. "At this point there's a lot more information we could be getting."

Across the island, Angeline Greensill chairs customary fishing forum Ngahapu o Te Uru on the coast from northern Taranaki to Raglan and is assessing proposed blocks which include onshore Waikato.

"You only need one accident offshore down here in the South Pacific, who's going to come and rescue us."

Petroleum Exploration and Production Association NZ chief executive David Robinson said as people understand more about the industry they will feel more comfortable with it and understand what the risk and reward equation is.