Govt to reverse ban on oil, gas exploration

Shane Jones. Photo: RNZ
Resources Minister Shane Jones. Photo: RNZ
The government will reverse the ban on oil and gas exploration, Minister for Resources Shane Jones has confirmed.

Jones said New Zealand's natural gas reserves were declining and sustainable sources like wind, solar and hydro were too inconsistent.

"Natural gas is critical to keeping our lights on and our economy running, especially during peak electricity demand and when generation dips because of more intermittent sources like wind, solar and hydro," Jones said on Sunday.

Offshore petroleum exploration was banned by the Labour-led government in 2018, but Jones said that restriction would be removed.

"When the exploration ban was introduced by the previous government in 2018, it not only halted the exploration needed to identify new sources, but it also shrank investment in further development of our known gas fields which sustain our current levels of use.

"Without this investment, we are now in a situation where our annual natural gas production is expected to peak this year and undergo a sustained decline, meaning we have a security of supply issue barrelling towards us."

He said the act would also be amended to make it easier for companies to get permission for oil exploration.

"Some of our current settings are a barrier to attracting investment in exploration and production because they are overly costly and onerous on industry. Some obligations lack necessary flexibility, and compliance obligations are uncertain and unclear."

The reversal was signalled in the government's coalition agreement, and faces strong opposition from environmental groups.

Other changes planned include "introducing a new tier of mineral permitting that will make it easier for people to undertake small-scale non-commercial gold-mining activity" and "reintroducing the term 'promote' into the purpose statement of the act, giving the government the mandate to actively promote prospecting, exploration and mining of minerals".

The bill to enact the changes would be introduced in the second half of 2024, Jones said.

Coalition partner Act's energy and resources spokesperson Simon Court said the oil and gas ban was "a publicity stunt".

"Taking full advantage of the resources at our disposal will allow us to get electricity prices under control, ease the cost-of-living crisis for the families who are struggling most, and grow the economy with international investment."