ExxonMobil, NZ Govt settle out of court

EXXONMOBIL has settled its fight with the New Zealand Government over disputed Great South Basin (GSB) seismic data, promising to share the data with Crown Minerals and any successful bidders for the relevant GSB blocks of the 40 currently on offer.
ExxonMobil, NZ Govt settle out of court ExxonMobil, NZ Govt settle out of court ExxonMobil, NZ Govt settle out of court ExxonMobil, NZ Govt settle out of court ExxonMobil, NZ Govt settle out of court

Crown Minerals group manager Adam Feeley said today ExxonMobil had agreed to provide the former with a copy of the disputed Fugro-Geoteam data package data on a confidential basis.

And any joint ventures awarded relevant GSB exploration licences next year would be offered the same data, on “reasonable commercial terms”.

If ExxonMobil is awarded a GSB permit, bids for which close next March, the data will remain confidential in accordance with the permit terms and the Crown Minerals regime. If ExxonMobil does not win a licence, then Crown Minerals can disclose the data after five years.

The settlement comes just a week before a trial scheduled to start in the Wellington High Court on November 20.

Earlier this year, ExxonMobil asked the court to rule on the wrangle involving the seismic data shot over two years ago by Fugro-Geoteam for the partners in the now revoked licence PEP 38215, then operated by Australian explorer Bounty Oil & Gas.

Crown Minerals demanded ExxonMobil make available all PEP 38215 data, as usually is required by JVs that relinquish licences or have them revoked, but ExxonMobil maintained it was never a partner in the permit and therefore not required to surrender the seismic data it reportedly paid $US3.2 million ($A4.5 million) for last year.

The Polar Duke seismic vessel acquired about 2000km of 2D seismic data in early 2004 for Bounty, which was to be free-carried through a farm-out to British company Electro Silica.

But the UK company never fulfilled its licence obligations and Fugro-Geoteam later sold the data to ExxonMobil.

Pre-trial high court documents showed Crown Minerals believed ExxonMobil would have damaged the long-term energy interests of New Zealand by refusing to hand over the seismic data and that it would have spoiled a competitive tender, as all bidders would not have had equal information without the ExxonMobil data.

An ExxonMobil court document showed it last year said there was the potential for huge gas finds in the GSB that could be turned into liquefied natural gas for export.

It rejected Crown Minerals’ discretion to take into account the dispute and said the relevant considerations were whether companies, including itself, could carry out proposed work programs.

Mobil New Zealand today declined to comment further.

Feeley said Crown Minerals recognised that ExxonMobil and Fugro-Geoteam had acted in good faith throughout the process.

“I believe this is a good outcome for the Government, ExxonMobil and Fugro, as well as everyone else in the exploration industry,” he said.

“It preserves the Crown’s interest in obtaining a copy of all data acquired from exploration activities in New Zealand.

“From discussions officials have had across industry, and as a result of this settlement, I am in no doubt that there continues to be high levels of confidence in the fairness and transparency of the New Zealand allocation process.”

Industry sources today said they were pleased the matter had been settled out of court, as an adverse outcome would have send negative signals regarding New Zealand’s exploration regime.