WELLINGTON, New Zealand, March 21 (UPI) -- Though oil and gas remains a vital component of the New Zealand economy, the country's energy minister said development won't come recklessly.
The government in Wellington announced the launch of its auction for oil and gas development acreage, with four blocks offshore and one onshore area slated for bidding.
New Zealand Energy Minister Simon Bridges said energy is a strategic asset that provides a significant source of revenue and power for the country. Oil 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.
"However it's not about development at any cost," he said in a statement. "In recent years, the government has built a world-class regulatory framework to provide for oil and gas development, while ensuring our unique environment is protected and workplace health and safety standards are high."
Bridges said the government was taking a long-term view on its energy portfolio by looking for a balance between opportunities in both renewable and non-renewable forms of energy. Natural gas in particular, he said, could serve as a vital link to a low-carbon economic future.
"As the cleanest fossil fuel, countries are increasingly choosing gas as an alternative to coal for electricity generation," he said.
Utility company Genesis Energy announced last year it's on pace to shut down its last two coal-fired power plants by December 2018, effectively marking the end of coal power in New Zealand. By 2025, the government aims to get 90 percent of its electricity supplied through renewable energy resources.