Petrobas officials made a last-ditch attempt to save their
Raukumara Basin exploration project by asking for time to
seek a financial partner.
The Brazilian oil giant last week relinquished its five-year
permit to explore for oil and gas in deep waters off the East
Cape, prompting jubilation from environmentalists and
disappointment from the business sector.
However, documents released to Green Party MP Gareth Hughes
under the Official Information Act reveal that in August the
company applied for an extension to its work programme "in
order to make a more informed decision" about whether it
would complete it or surrender the permit.
The reason for the application was that it was "in the
process of identifying a potential partner to share the
investments related to the work programme", said Petrobras
lawyer Marcos Jose de Souza.
The company had already carried out 2D seismic surveying over
more than 3000 square kilometres of the basin - priced at
US$5 million - some of it interrupted by protesters from
Greenpeace and East Cape iwi Te Whanau a Apanui.
Petrobras believed that "the possibility of sharing the costs
of the next phase would increase the chances of approval of
the of the 3D seismic survey by Petrobras upper management",
the application said.
But the company's decision to surrender its permit indicated
that it had not managed to find such a partner, said Mr
Hughes, the Green Party energy spokesman.
"The Government is trying to spin it that Petrobras wanted to
focus on its business in Brazil, but Petrobras tried to get
an investment partner for the Raukumara Basin and failed," Mr
"Potential business partners would no doubt be aware that
Petrobras's risky plans in the basin attracted massive public
opposition from Te Whanau a Apanui and the public.
"We can create a smart, green economy by moving away from
risky extractive activities like deep-sea oil drilling,
towards renewable energy and clean-tech jobs."
On the other hand, Petrobras's desire to hold on to its
permit showed that the Raukumara Basin remained a viable
interest for the industry, said Petroleum Exploration and
Production Association of New Zealand (PEPANZ) chief
executive David Robinson.
"The way I would describe it is that if you are the first
person to explore somewhere, you go only so far then record
your experiences - which is what Petrobras has done," he
"They did only a small amount of 2D surveying and I think
they saw some encouraging signs there. But they have big
reserves in their own coastal waters and, since they have
only so much money to spend, they have reduced global
expenditure to focus on their own resources."
Regardless of its potential, the waters of the Raukumara
Basin will remain undisturbed for some time yet.
There are no areas - onshore or offshore - in this region
available in Block Offer 2012 tracts opened up for
exploration, for which the successful bidders will be
announced next week.
With Petrobras holding its permit when the Government drew up
its Block Offer 2013, the new list also did not include any
blocks off East Coast shores - though inland blocks were made
"When we send out block offers across New Zealand, we take a
balanced approach between land and sea, shallow water and
deep water, proven and unproven areas, so we are cutting it
six ways," said Minister of Energy and Resources Phil
That did not mean that in future years the Government would
not again be looking at the Raukumara Basin.
"This has always been about exploration work. So if we get in
a few exploration wells, then we can have a debate about
whether to go for it," Mr Heatley said.
"In future we would like to see much more exploration, both
on shore and off shore on the East Cape."
- By Kristine Walsh of the Gisborne Herald