WESTERN Southland is earmarked for oil and gas exploration as part of the Government’s 2017 Block Offer petroleum tender.
The annual block offer was introduced in 2012 as a way for the Government to manage how petroleum permits were allocated, giving petroleum companies the opportunity to bid for the rights to search for commercially viable oil and gas reserves in allocated areas.
Energy and Resources Minister Judith Collins said New Zealand’s petroleum sector was a significant contributor to the economy, with oil companies investing $7.7 billion in oil and gas exploration and production in New Zealand between 2011 and 2015.
“In order to encourage exploration activity, we need to maintain our reputation as open for investment and a good place to do business. At the same time, the Government’s regulatory framework will ensure New Zealand’s unique environment continues to be protected,” she said.
This year’s block offer includes five offshore areas, one onshore/offshore area in Taranaki and two onshore areas – Southland and Taranaki.
The Southland Onshore Release Area covers 3568km of Western Southland, including a section of the eastern shore of Lake Te Anau, close to the Fiordland National Park.
Save Manapouri patron, plant ecologist and conservationist emeritus professor Sir Alan Mark, of the University of Otago, said it was “appalling and irresponsible” of the Government to open up an area of Te Anau to oil and gas exploration, an area which was the gateway to the renowned and pristine Fiordland National Park.
The lakeshore was very delicate and extremely vulnerable to mismanagement and abuse, he said.
“Oil exploration was an invitation that mining would be permissible if oil was located… the implications are profound.
“Mining there is totally inappropriate in terms of the landscape and damage to the area. Any [oil] leakage would inevitably get into the lake,” he said.
Department of Conservation Te Anau district operations manager Greg Lind said the area of Southland released for oil and gas exploration had varying degrees of importance.
It would depend where and how the exploration was conducted before he could comment on what impact it could have, he said.
“Generally exploration activity was not a concern, it was the drilling for oil. That is when the rubber hits the road.”
Southland Chamber of Commerce board member Mark O’Connor said any large-scale operation to extract oil or gas would create employment and provide opportunities for Southland businesses, but it would be extremely important to ensure it was managed in a environmentally sensitive way.
A Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment spokesperson said techniques used for onshore oil and gas exploration included seismic surveying, outcrop hand sampling and geological mapping.
“This type of exploration is generally non-invasive or minimally invasive and the environmental impacts are considered negligible.”
The tender period closes on September 6.