5 Dec 2012

Petrobras pulls out of NZ oil exploration

7:49 am on 5 December 2012

Oil company Petrobras has decided to quit its exploration in New Zealand, after conducting only a preliminary survey of the Raukumara Basin on the North Island east coast and has handed back its permit to the Government.

The Brazilian firm was awarded the petroleum exploration permit for the Raukumara Basin in 2010.

Energy Minister Phil Heatley says Petrobras did not find enough indicators to continue with its survey.

Mr Heatley, who met with company representatives on Monday, says Petrobras has decided to focus on its business in Brazil.

"I've met with them and they've said pretty clearly that it's sort of technical reasons and prospectivity, meaning that they didn't find enough to keep them sort of on the string so they want to regroup in Brazil. But we believe that there's opportunities out there in the Raukumara Basin; others might pick up those particular permits and we might still see opportunities."

Mr Heatley says Petrobras has collected 2D seismic data that will be available to other companies interested in exploring the area.

Its surveying activities were met with a series of protests by iwi and environmental group Greenpeace, as well as a court challenge, but Mr Heatley told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme the protest action played no part in the company's decision to quit New Zealand.

Mr Heatley says it was an economic decision.

The Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand agrees it was a commercial decision, and says while it is disappointing it won't be the end of exploration in the Raukumara basin.

Raukumara Basin closed for exploration until 2014

The Crown agency in charge of oil exploration says the decision whether to open up the area again will depend on careful analysis.

Kevin Rolens, who heads the petroleum section at New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals, says the agency will analyse the Petrobras data before deciding whether to open the area for competitive tender but that won't be before 2014.

Petrobras gathered seismic data over a 3000km area, which Mr Rolens says will be available to other companies.

Petrobras 'regrouping'

Prime Minister John Key says Petrobras may return to New Zealand for exploration but in the short term is relinquishing its permit.

"They are going through a bit of a regrouping phase and they're stepping back from what they're doing.

"I don't think it's got anything to do with the capacity to do the mining activity they were looking at undertaking."

Finance Minister Bill English says Petrobras will have its own reasons for pulling out.

"The Government's done a good job of making it attractive but the companies have got their shareholders, they've got changes in world energy markets and they'll make their own decisions."

Mr English says other exploration companies will take an interest in New Zealand.

Green Party energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes says the Government's plans for deep sea drilling are collapsing. and it should focus on clean energy and maintaining jobs in the manufacturing sector.

Greenpeace climate campaigner Simon Boxer says the protest mounted against Petrobras surprised the company.

Mr Boxer says Greenpeace, along with Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi Te Whanau a Apanui, will continue with their legal challenge to the permit issued to Petrobras, despite the company's withdrawal.