Govt opens door to mining companies

 The Government has thrown open the door to mining companies, moving to introduce a tender process for oil and gas exploration.

Acting Minister of Energy and Resources Hekia Parata today launched New Zealand's Energy Strategy, and announced plans to change the way permits are issued for oil and gas exploration by opening some areas up for tender.

"The proposed approach would allow us to focus on areas of greatest potential, and will be more transparent for the public, who would know which areas are available for permitting and which are not," Ms Parata said.

There was a 40-day working period for the public to make submissions on the proposed changes.

Following the announcement in Wellington this morning, Ms Parata told media the current permit process needed to change to match the Government's agenda.

"We want to be able to have greater certainty about what we are permitting, what acreage is available, we want to have a schedule each year of when that will occur," Ms Parata said.

"It will give confidence and security to industry to bid, but also give transparency to our communities who want to be part of the process and have their interests and concerns heard."

Ms Parata said the proposed change would streamline the process for all parties.

Fossil fuels would continue to play an important role in the global economy, and New Zealand was no exception, she said.

"We can't just turn off the tap in our journey to a lower carbon economy. We also can't ignore the major economic opportunity that continuing global oil demand could provide New Zealand. Petroleum was our fourth biggest export earner in 2010."

The Government was also reviewing the Crown Minerals Act (1991) and that a discussion document would be released for consultation before the end of the year.

Legislation was expected to be introduced next year, with the focus of realigning the Act with the Government's economic plans.

The Government also wanted to increase the use of renewable energy -- it has a target of 90 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025, from 79 percent now.

The Government's policy was met with anger by environmental groups, with Greenpeace describing it as "an act of gross economic incompetence, committed by an Cabinet that is refusing to give up its obsession with fossil fuels".

Greenpeace NZ spokesman Simon Boxer said the strategy turned its back on New Zealand's clean technologies sector in favour of subsidising international oil.

"Instead of capitalising on New Zealander's famous ability to come up with creative engineering solutions to complex problems, the Government is spending millions on trying to attract the deep water oil industry here," Mr Boxer said.

"The energy strategy will saddle New Zealanders with a massive carbon liability, and the risk of a deep water oil disaster -- for the sake of foreign oil companies' profit margins."

Labour leader Phil Goff said his party was not against mining but insisted that it did not take place within conservation areas and national parks.

"If it's to take place at sea there have got to be, excuse the pun, watertight guarantees around safety and environmental protection.

"We can't afford to be carrying the can for a Gulf of Mexico type incident. That doesn't mean to say that oil exploration stops. We would support continuing exploration but with stringent environmental safeguards."


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