The Government has been "grossly irresponsible" in allowing oil and gas exploration permits to go ahead, including one that could be 3km deep by one of the biggest companies in the world, the Green Party says.
Three new companies have entered the oil and gas exploration game in New Zealand, including Chevron.
The Government announced 15 new oil and gas permits in its block offer today, with Chevron NZ Exploration being awarded three offshore licences for the Pegasus Basin in a joint venture with Statoil.
In total, six onshore and nine offshore permits have been awarded to nine companies, more than the 10 permits issued last year.
The other new companies are ONGC Videsh and New Zealand company New Endeavour Resources.
The joint venture between Chevron and Statoil encompasses just over 26,000 square kilometres.
Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges says the permits represent more than $110 million in committed expenditure on initial exploration, which, if successful, could lead to more than $1 billion in further work.
"I think it's really all about ensuring we get a deeper understanding of what is happening in New Zealand, about what there is onshore and offshore and that enhances our ability to provide that economic game-changer that another basin would open up," he says.
But Greens co-leader Russel Norman says the exploration phase is the most risky.
"When the Government gives them the right to go ahead, you can expect problems. That's when it's most likely to have problems," he says.
The majority of the offshore permits are considered deep sea because they're more than 300m and they also include part of the sanctuary protecting the critically endangered Maui's dolphin.
Dr Norman says it seems the Government is "intent on driving the Maui's dolphin to extinction".
"This is an arrogant government that simply doesn’t care that New Zealanders want to protect the environment and it keeps giving permits to go ahead and destroy the environment."
Despite fighting charges over a 2011 oil spill near Brazil, Mr Bridges does not have any concerns about Chevron exploring New Zealand waters.
"We don't accept cowboys in New Zealand. We have incredibly high standards that I have personally lifted. [Chevron] has had to go through a rigorous process to satisfy us that they are good enough to be here."
He says while the company's record "is not perfect, it is strong".
Before Chevron can drill, it will still need to meet the standards of the Environmental Protection Agency, Worksafe NZ and a number of other authorities, Mr Bridges says.
He believes the public's level of concern about oil drilling has lessened in the past few years because of the regulatory changes and engagement with iwi and communities.
The Department of Conservation-protected Victoria Forest Park, the largest in the country, was part of the tender process and is a small part of the permit given to Mosman Oil and Gas NZ.
Mr Bridges says it includes 16 square kilometres, which is less than half a percent of the 200,000 hectare park. He says mining has happened in the park for "about 100 years".
Petroleum Exploration and Production Association chief executive Cameron Madgwick has welcomed this year's permits.
"Today's announcement could see a real increase to the contribution the industry makes to our country," he says.
The New Zealand oil and gas industry employs more than 7000 people.
Three Oil Free Wellington activists have been arrested after locking themselves to the entrance of NZ Petroleum and Minerals in protest against today's block offer.
source: newshub archive