The man heading Shell New Zealand's Great South Basin gas exploration project has described a community engagement meeting in Invercargill on Tuesday as ''positive from all sides''.
Representatives of environmental, marine industry, business, tourism, iwi and economic development groups appreciated the opportunity to hear the company's plans first-hand and comment on them, exploration venture manager Roland Spuij said afterwards.
About 25 people attended the meeting, the first of six being held in Invercargill and Dunedin in the next few months.
Shell has an exploration permit for about 16,700sq km of the Great South Basin, off the east coast of New Zealand from about Dunedin to just south of Stewart Island.
It is about 70% of the way through assessing its $80 million worth of data on Great South Basin gas prospects and will probably announce by the middle of next year if it will fund a southern deep-water drilling programme. The earliest it would consider drilling would be the summer of 2014-15.
The company yesterday talked about its exploration plans before participants broke into three groups to discuss issues and report back.
Mr Spuij said the business-focused group was particularly interested in how it could prepare workers, contractors and infrastructure, should Shell decide to go ahead with drilling.
The company had yet to decide whether it would use a floating drill rig or a drill ship, or whether its operations would be based in Invercargill or Dunedin, should it decide to proceed, he said.
The environmental groups raised issues including the biosecurity risks of bringing a drill ship or rig into New Zealand waters, as well as noise and light effects from drilling and the need to protect marine life during drilling, he said.
The community engagement meetings are part of an environment, social and health impact assessment Shell has to prepare to meet the requirements of the Government's Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012, which came into effect in September.
The company is also completing a separate cultural assessment of southern drilling in consultation with local runanga.
Shell was employing 11 geologists and geophysicists on the collection and analysis of Great South Basin data, Mr Spuij said. Their work was expected to be completed by end of February.