An oil and gas company offering to invest in a Hawke's Bay initiative disputes any coincidence in timing between their offer, and a proposal to prohibit exploration activities in the region.
Last week the Hawke's Bay Regional Council was recommended to partner an investment with OMV - an Austria-based oil and gas company - which had offered a principal investment of $50,000 per year for four years into the Hawke's Bay Regional Biodiversity Strategy.
It was proposed council match OMV's principal investment, and leverage funding from Predator Free NZ 2050 of $50,000 a year - over four years this would direct $600,000 toward the community-led project with the vision of a predator-free Mahia.
However - with the council progressing a proposed plan which would prohibit oil and gas exploration activities in certain areas on land, some councillors last week debated whether a conflict of interest could be perceived by accepting the investment.
When asked why the company had made the offer, OMV Australasia Senior Vice President Mr Gabriel Selischi said the proposal had a strong appeal as it "has a very good chance of eliminating predators in their targeted area".
"We believe it will be a privilege for our staff to be involved in a project which has a high likelihood of delivering measurable environmental benefits to the local community."
He said there was no relationship between the regional council's actions, and the timing of their involvement with the Biodiversity strategy, adding the company only participated in projects that were in regions where they were active.
OMV has a permit to undertake exploration activities in the East Coast, which started in April 2015.
"Over the time we have operated in New Zealand we have always been on the lookout for projects within the regions in which we work," he said.
"We look for projects that are well managed, and likely to have a successful outcome."
He added that OMV had a "strong focus on corporate social responsibility" in all the countries they operated in, and gave priority to projects which had environmental, or educational benefits for the community, and preferred projects which their staff could be involved with.
"We prefer projects where our staff can be involved, and OMV has supported many similar projects in past years."
Those carried out in several regions included predator control on wildlife sanctuaries, restoration of wetland habitats, translocation of threatened bird species and marine fauna monitoring programmes, he said.
OMV is the largest producer of liquid hydrocarbons, and the third largest natural gas producer in the country. The company currently holds interests in nine exploration permits - eight as operator - in three offshore production licences or petroleum mining permits in the Taranaki region.
Its website states it has been "actively searching for additional oil and gas resources in New Zealand".
The bidding process for oil and gas exploration permits in 5569sq km of Hawke's Bay's offshore marine area under the Government's Block Offer 2017 is open.
Mr Selischi said he could not comment on whether OMV were bidding for a permit as this was a confidential process.