New Zealand halts new offshore oil and gas exploration

Wellington (New Zealand) (AFP) –


New Zealand is halting all new offshore oil and gas exploration as part of its efforts to deal with climate change, the centre-left government said Thursday.

"(We are) taking an important step to address climate change and create a clean, green and sustainable future for New Zealand," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

The oil and gas industry in New Zealand generates about NZ$2.5 billion a year ($1.8 billion), including NZ$1.5 billion in exports, and employs about 11,000 people.

Ardern said existing drilling and exploration permits would not be affected, meaning no existing jobs would be lost.

She said there would also be limited new on-shore permits around the North Island's Taranaki region, where most of New Zealand industry is concentrated.

"We're striking the right balance for New Zealand -- we're protecting existing industry and protecting future generations from climate change," she said.

Environmental groups welcomed the move, with Greenpeace declaring "the tide has turned irreversibly against Big Oil in New Zealand".

"This is a huge step forward for New Zealand and a landmark moment in the transition to a clean-energy economy," WWF New Zealand chief Livia Esterhazy said.

But the conservative opposition National Party accused Ardern of "economic vandalism" that could put thousands of jobs at risk.

Opposition energy spokesman Jonathan Young said gas helped ensure New Zealand's electricity supply and when existing reserves ran out in 10 years it would be forced to import emissions-heavy alternatives such as coal.

"This decision is devoid of any rationale. It certainly has nothing to do with climate change," he said.

"These changes will simply shift production elsewhere in the world, not reduce emissions."

Industry group Petroleum Exploration and Production NZ (PEPANZ) said it had been blindsided by the announcement and had not been consulted by the government.

Chief executive Cameron Madgwick said a well-managed trading scheme was the way to reduce New Zealand's emissions, not "arbitrarily banning" certain fuel types.

"We now join the elite club of Belize, Costa Rica and France that have banned exploration. I don't think that's really the way the world's going," he told TV3.

The government said there were currently 31 oil and gas exploration permits, with 22 of them offshore.