WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Sept. 3 (UPI) -- The New Zealand government is consulting with local communities as a first step toward awarding oil and gas exploration permits, the energy minister said.
"Successive block offers have shown that operators are looking for long-term opportunities in a mix of mature and frontier acreage, which New Zealand has to offer," New Zealand Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges said in a statement Thursday. "We will continue to seek investment from experienced and capable operators."
The New Zealand government said a consultation period involving local authorities and tribal communities will run through the end of October, with tenders for offshore and onshore oil and gas acreage distributed by March.
Oil by itself is the fourth-largest export for New Zealand, bringing in around $700 million each year in royalties and taxes. The government said there are around 149 million barrels of oil reserves remaining in fields already in production.
While Bridges said the renewable energy sector is drawing interest from potential investors, the latest government data show oil and gas explorers spent more than $2 billion in the country last year, the highest level on record. Keeping a balance between conservation, a low-carbon trajectory and sound fiscal policies are essential, he said.
"[Consultation] is an essential first step in the block offer process," he said. "The feedback from these groups ensures that any areas of sensitivity are carefully considered before the tender round is finalized."
In April, the government offered a combined acreage 165,752 acres up for auction to oil and gas explorers, with most of that offshore. The minister said there's been "serious momentum" building behind the government's oil and gas exploration sector.