Government efforts to entice major global oil and gas producers to New Zealand has borne fruit, with Norway's state-owned Statoil and Australian heavyweight Woodside Petroleum winning exploration licences in the latest permit awards, announced at Parliament.
A total of 10 exploration licences have been granted, five offshore and five onshore, the same number as last year and sees intensified exploration in the Great South Basin, where two new licences have been awarded.
Statoil will undertake seismic surveys in the virtually unexplored Reinga Basin, offshore to the north and west coast of the North Island and is the first time the Nordic company, already operating in 35 countries and some 70 deep-water wells.
Woodside is partnering with local explorer and producer New Zealand Oil & Gas to explore an offshore licence area in the Great South Basin, while NZOG has taken further GSB territory off the coast of South Canterbury.
It is Woodside's first foray into New Zealand exploration. The company is one of Australia's largest and has drilled 46 deep-water wells since 2004.
A third new international player, Mont D'Or, has also entered the scene with the award of an onshore permit to undertake seismic surveys on the east coast of the North Island.
None of the block offer permits awarded today involve a commitment to drill. All either seek to reprocess seismic data or to shoot new seismic surveys, which are the first steps in determining whether a licence area shows signs of being worth the major ramp-up in spending required to undertake exploration drilling.
The 10 licences awarded come with work programmes valued at a total of $62 million, $56 million of which is in offshore permit areas. The 10 licences awarded last year saw work programmes worth $82 million, but were predominantly onshore programmes.
Also winning new exploration licences today were Australian explorers Octanex, AWE, Mitsui E&P, Canadian companies TAG Oil and its subsidiary Eastern Petroleum, and East West Petroleum, a small player that won its first New Zealand territory in last year's block offer.
New Zealand company Petrochem, a subsidiary of Greymouth Petroleum, won an onshore Taranaki prospect, where it will undertake seismic reprocessing.
AWE and Mitsui are partnering on an onshore northern Taranaki prospect to reprocess 2D and 3D seismic in the Kaimiro area, while Octanex has secured rights to seismic reprocessing on a southern Taranaki offshore prospect.
TAG takes further acreage onshore Taranaki, where it is already a substantial producer, while the awards to Eastern Petroleum and East West Petroleum offer new prospective areas in the Gisborne/Hawke's Bay region.
Mont d'Or won rights to reprocess and shoot new 2D seismic in an onshore east coast North Island block.
Energy Minister Simon Bridges welcomed the ongoing interest in New Zealand as an oil and gas exploration venue, saying today's awards would go to "exploring an under-explored country", and that the sector was "one of the most significant prospects for economic growth."
The awards come as New Zealand faces two summers of intensive oil and gas exploration activity, which began last month with Texan explorer Anadarko spudding in a deepwater exploration well in waters 150 kilometres from the northern Taranaki coast.