Oil permit move rankles in Far North

By Mike Dinsdale

Opening the sea off Northland's entire west coast for oil and gas exploration will be good for the region in the long term, Far North Mayor Wayne Brown says, but he's unhappy about the consultation - or lack of it - done so far.

On Thursday the Government started the process for awarding oil and gas exploration permits in seven onshore and three offshore blocks around the country, including the Northland/Reinga Basins, which stretch from the entrance to the Manukau Harbour, up Northland's west coast to above Cape Reinga in the Tasman Sea.

Energy and Resources Minister and Whangarei MP Phil Heatley said exploration benefits could be game-changers for Northland and predicted it could pour up to $2 billion into the national economy annually and create up to 5000 jobs in Northland.

Mr Brown said he agreed that the potential benefits for Northland in the long term from any exploration could be huge, but he felt more consultation with his council and Far North iwi should have happened before the announcement was made. He was first briefed last week.

The Government will now consult with relevant iwi and councils until January 30.

A final decision on areas to offer will be made in April, with bids due from interested exploration companies by September 30 and decision on allocations in December 2013.

Te Runanga o Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi has said his iwi was not happy with the proposal and felt any consultation would be a "facade". Mr Brown said he understood Mr Piripi's frustrations.

"I think this will be good for Northland in the long term, but in the short term they've got a lot of explaining to do to get everybody on board. We haven't had enough warning to organise ourselves and I don't think the Government has consulted particularly well with our local iwi," Mr Brown said.

He wasn't sure if it would provide the thousands of jobs locally as it was likely that Port Taranaki would still be used as the main port facility for any exploration.

"But if Kaitaia got 2000 or 3000 people earning $100,000 plus it would be a different town. It would be good to have that number of high-paid jobs in the Far North." He felt Kaitaia could be a base to helicopter people and equipment out to any rigs.

Labour list MP and Far North resident Shane Jones said Labour supported the move in principle.

Mr Jones said some Maori may not be happy with the plan due to cultural and spiritual concerns: "There's no guarantee anything will ever happen, but to have investment you have to get the good information before making those (investment) decisions ... Maori unemployment is 15 per cent and it would be 25 per cent or more in some of our kaianga in Tai Tokerau. Let's have a look at this, it might be good for the region."

- Northern Advocate

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