Lifting oil and gas exploration ban polarises

Andrew Whiley. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Andrew Whiley. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A Dunedin city councillor says he is "quietly optimistic" about a return of gas exploration off Otago’s coast.

However, an end to New Zealand’s ban on oil and gas exploration would first put the focus on Taranaki, Cr Andrew Whiley said.

The former spokesman for Pro Gas Otago was pleased Resources Minister Shane Jones had confirmed the ban, put in place by the Labour-led government in 2018, would be lifted.

"I’m personally very enthused that the government has taken this position and about the potential for the country."

But for a variety of reasons, the focus would be further north. "Taranaki is just so much easier in the sense of exploration than the Southern Basin is.

"I’m quietly optimistic that there will be beneficial factors for our region, but I think first off the company has to be excited to come to New Zealand and explore in Taranaki."

Still, Cr Whiley said in recent years he had been briefed by "at least two major companies" that had done research off Otago’s coast about the potential here.

"They are very excited about the opportunity."

In a statement at the weekend Mr Jones said when the exploration ban was introduced in 2018, it not only stopped exploration, but also led to reduced investment in the further development of known gas fields.

To reverse that trend, legislation would be changed to make it easier for companies to get permission for oil exploration.

Energy Resources Aotearoa chief executive John Carnegie said the government would need to put mechanisms in place to make sure investors had confidence that their investment would "remain whole" if or when there was a change of government.

It could take "closer to 10 years" to bring a new discovery through to production, and so oil and gas projects inevitably spanned multiple elections.

Changes to existing policy settings would need to be material to "shift the dial for investors".

"That of course goes for both existing participants, but also ‘potential’ participants", Mr Carnegie said.

University of Otago school of geography associate professor Sophie Bond said she expected large parts of New Zealand society to question the government’s move.

It could add to the momentum of a general campaign already resisting the present shift towards a more extractive economy.

There had now been a series of reversals of the previous government’s decisions and while she did not question the election outcome, or the broader shift it indicated in society, she said "the shift has gone quite a lot further in the opposite direction".

It was not clear there was much appetite for renewed oil and gas exploration.

"I think the conversation has moved on ... The social licence for oil and gas has reduced — that’s my impression.

"And I think the evidence for that is in the number of people who are willing to march on things like School Strike [4 Climate] and the recent environmental actions in Auckland at the weekend."

Labour climate spokeswoman Megan Woods slammed reversing the ban as a "disaster for the climate" that would take climate action backwards.

Green Party co-leader Chloe Swarbrick said lifting the ban was the latest episode of the government "putting profit before people and planet".

Green list MP Scott Willis, of Dunedin, said New Zealanders cared about a liveable future.

"We’ve just seen tens of thousands of Kiwis stand up to this government’s anti-environment agenda over the weekend.

"By pouring oil and gas on the climate crisis fire, this government is simply demonstrating how out of touch it is."