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Protesters are vowing to ''peacefully confront'' Anadarko's drill ship when it arrives off Otago's coast, but another seismic survey vessel working for oil giant Shell has already slipped into the area.
Aquila Explorer was yesterday beginning work on a two-dimensional seismic survey in the Great South Basin, southeast of Otago Peninsula.
Shell New Zealand announced plans for the survey 150km off the Dunedin coast last month, saying it would take 70 days and cost ''tens of millions'' of dollars.
The survey ship's arrival came as Anadarko's drill ship, Noble Bob Douglas, was due to begin drilling a test well 60km off the Otago Peninsula coast, at the bottom of the Canterbury Basin, next month.
Oil Free Otago spokeswoman Niamh O'Flynn said in a statement released yesterday opponents of the drilling programme were planning to put to sea to protest against Anadarko's arrival.
Veteran protester Henk Haazen, on board his sailing ship SV Tiama, was due in Dunedin this morning to discuss plans with the group, she said.
Mr Haazen, a former anti-nuclear protester, was also involved in protests against Petrobras' deep-sea oil drilling plans off the North Island's East Coast, in 2010, and more recently drilling by Anadarko off Raglan, she said.
Shell's survey work, being undertaken by Aquila Explorer, aimed to produce a 2-D image of the sea floor as part of a hunt for natural gas.
It was stage one of what could be a 10-year programme, if gas was found in the 21,200sq km survey area, Shell health, safety, security, environmental and social performance exploration manager Grant Batterham said last month.
The seismic survey was also separate from Shell's plans, as part of a joint venture, to drill a test well further south, in the Great South Basin, some time in 2016-17.
That work was expected to cost between $100 million and $200 million.
• Dunedin city councillor Andrew Whiley, a vocal supporter of exploratory drilling off the Otago coast, was yesterday named as the spokesman for Pro Gas Otago.
The supporters' group was launched last month as Pro Oil and Gas Otago, but announced a ''restructure'' yesterday.
It has attracted about 3300 ''likes'' on Facebook.