New Zealand could become a major exporter of gas to Asia which would help cut global carbon emissions, Energy and Resources minister Simon Bridges says.
Releasing more area for exploration around New Zealand today, Bridges said he was particularly interested in the country's untapped potential for natural gas.
"For a long time New Zealand has been considered, rightly or wrongly, gas-prone. These days that label may work more in our favour," he told the New Zealand Petroleum conference in Auckland.
The International Energy Agency predicted natural gas demand would continue its expansion as the fastest growing fossil fuel.
Japan, South Korea, China, and India are already big consumers of gas for electricity generation. There is real potential for significant growth in our most populous nations, China and India, as they currently rely heavily on coal.
Tens of billions of dollars have been invested in LNG projects in Australia, which was expected to soon eclipse Qatar as the world's largest LNG exporter.
"If there is a major gas find in New Zealand, we are in an excellent position to cater to that Asian market. Not only could we reap economic benefits from gas production but in helping those nations replace coal with gas, we would be making a positive contribution to reducing global emissions," Bridges said.
New Zealand's gas is used to generate power, in industry and in houses rather than being exported.
Watch: Protesters disrupt Auckland oil conference:
The blocks offer - in which large areas are made available for explorers to bid on - covers about 525,500 square kilometres including 1062) square kilometres onshore.
The four offshore release areas are in the Reinga-Northland Basin, Taranaki Basin, Pegasus and East Coast Basins, and Great South-Canterbury Basin. There is one onshore release area in Taranaki.
Bridges said he was confident there would be strong interest in spite of the relatively low oil price.
"I think we have to be realistic about things at the moment given the price and that exploration budgets have been slashed around the world and we're clearly not immune from that," he said.
What's very clear to me is that geologists remain very interested in New Zealand and if it was up to them and not the people carrying the money bags they'd be continuing to explore.
"What's very clear to me is that geologists remain very interested in New Zealand and if it was up to them and not the people carrying the money bags they'd be continuing to explore."
But Greenpeace - which organised a protest which disrupted the conference at SkyCity said the block offer was a desperate last-ditch bid by the government to save its failing oil plans.
"Last month not one single petroleum company was searching for oil using exploratory drilling. And the government's last block offer was a massive flop, with not one taker for any deep sea drilling permit, said senior climate campaigner Simon Boxer.
He said the emphasis on gas was interesting.
"This leads me to believe that the large finds of oil that the Government were confidently predicting several years ago are looking less likely, especially since the drilling programmes (both deep sea and shallow water) have been coming up empty handed recently.''