The Government is defending its oil exploration programme against claims that it is dying.

Greenpeace says Houston-based prospecting company ION Geophysical has relinquished its oil surveying permits, which covered almost half of New Zealand's water and another Houston-based company, TGS, has also withdrawn its application for a major offshore prospecting permit off the West Coast of the North Island.

Shell is also reviewing its New Zealand drilling operations.

Greenpeace New Zealand's senior campaign adviser, Steve Abel, said the growing list of oil companies pulling out were an indication that the Government's oil programme is dying a death.


Prospecting was the essential first step of offshore drilling.

"These companies gain data that is on-sold to the oil companies, but if there is poor indication of possible oil or there aren't buyers for the data then the prospectors aren't going to waste their time and money on surveying," he said.

"I think it's safe to say the New Zealand's offshore oil industry is in free fall. International petroleum players are dropping like flies."

However, Energy Minister Simon Bridges said operators come and go.

"There's no question it's a tough commercial environment globally from which New Zealand is not immune. I'm not aware of a single significant company in this field that hasn't dramatically reduced their prospecting and exploration budgets as a result of the lower oil price," he said.

"The decision by Ion and TGS to withdraw their permit applications are commercial decisions by those companies."

New Zealand has run annual Block Offers since 2012 in which explorers bid for acreage. This country has just one producing basin - Taranaki - with other offshore areas higher risk.

While the rate of drilling has slowed substantially as oil slumped from US$125 to around $30, there were signs of a busy summer for survey work this summer.

"If a number seismic surveys come through over summer its' going to be one of the biggest ones we've had in the last decade. There is quite a bit of work coming," said Bridges.

This included Chevron and OMV in the East Coast/Pegasus Basin, OMV and ONGC Videsh in the Taranaki Basin and Searcher Seismic and Schlumberger over the entire East Coast/Great South Basin and Great South Basin respectively.

Greenpeace says the Government needed to stop wasting taxpayers money and make good on the promises made at the Paris climate conference by quitting support for oil drilling and properly backing the clean innovative sectors.

Bridges said a transition to a low carbon economy had to happen in an orderly way over time.

" Even with that transition we'll still need petroleum for the foreseeable future," he said.