Exploration and conservation clash in NZ marine reserve

CONFUSION reigns over how the winner of Offshore Taranaki Block N will explore for oil and gas in the newly created government marine reserve off north Taranaki, New Zealand.

Crown Minerals has just extended its proposed Block N eastwards to the Taranaki coast near the small settlements of Pukearuhe and Tongaporotu. Part of the extended block covers the Parininihi Marine Reserve that the Ministry of Fisheries and Department of Conservation created earlier this month.

Energy industry sources say it is uncertain what, if any, exploration work – from seismic surveys to drilling wells – will be allowed within the marine reserve.

Fishing and crayfish potting are banned along a 5.5 kilometre stretch of coastline within the reserve which makes up a small portion of the 465.8 square kilometre Block N.

While the successful Block N bidder will be able to drill deviated wells – either from onshore or from further offshore, into the seabed under the marine reserve – it is not known if seismic surveys or any other physical work will be permitted.

There will certainly not be any development, such as pipelines and-or an unmanned platform, allowed within the reserve if any commercial hydrocarbons are found in the future.

Block N is north of the Pohokura gas-condensate field.

It is also not known if Crown Minerals will further revise Block N to exclude the marine reserve – either before or after the seven-block Offshore Taranaki Petroleum Blocks Bidding Round closes on February 17.

A similar situation existed years ago when, in the late 1980s Canada’s TCPL Resources held exploration acreage off western New Plymouth that included the then soon-to-be-established Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Reserve. TCPL Resources never drilled a well before relinquishing the licence in the early 1990s.

Now the Sugar Loaf Islands marine reserve is excluded from the New Zealand Minerals Program, as is Egmont National Park, and no exploration work at all is allowed.

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