By Neil Ritchie

US SUPERMAJOR Chevron and India’s largest energy company, ONGC Videsh, have signed up to explore New Zealand’s offshore petroleum potential as the sector continues to punch well above its weight.

Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges announced the successful bidders in the 2014 Petroleum Blocks Offer during mid-December – describing the 2014 blocks offer as “the most successful yet”.

These 15 new permits – nine offshore in the Reinga-Northland, Taranaki, and Pegasus basins and six onshore permits in the Taranaki, West Coast and East Coast basins – represent more than NZ$110 million in committed expenditure on initial exploration which, if successful, could lead to further work worth more than NZ$1 billion.

Chevron, which operates the Caltex brand in New Zealand, has won three offshore East Coast and Pegasus basin licences in conjunction with Norwegian government-controlled Statoil (PEPs 57083, 57085, 57087) – something commentators describe as a “big leap for both companies”.

Statoil has won another licence (PEP 57057) in the Northland-Reinga basin, essentially an extension to its existing lease (PEP 55781) awarded in December 2013, and aims to explore the two areas together.

The first few years of both leases will involve a data collection phase, with both permits covered by a large, regional two-dimensional seismic survey currently being conducted by Norwegian geophysical company TGS-Nopec as part of its plans to acquire at least 16,000 kilometres of 2D seismic data this summer utilising the Aquila Explorer survey ship.

ONGC Videsh has won one offshore Taranaki basin licence, way to the west of Taranaki, possibly near the edge of the continental shelf where Australian listed company AWE and partners drilled the non-commercial Hoki-1 wildcat well in 2010.

A third new entrant is New Endeavour Resources, headed by energy veterans Mark Webster, of Wellington, and David Price, of South Australia. Their company has won the offshore Taranaki lease PEP 57070 that includes the non-commercial Kora oil discovery made by US major Arco Petroleum during the early 1990s and several other promising prospects or plays.

New Endeavour Resources is going to conduct initial geological and geophysical studies, “working up” the permit so it can later bring in other investors – much like veteran US oil man Randall Thompson did with the sole Deepwater Taranaki exploration lease PEP 38451 a few years ago.

Austrian giant OMV, which operates the offshore Taranaki Maari-Mania oilfield, has won a further offshore Taranaki permit (PEP 57075) and one offshore Pegasus permit (PEP 57073).

New Zealand’s largest private integrated energy company Todd Energy and Australian listed company Beach Petroleum have won one further offshore Taranaki permit (PEP 57080), this time north of New Plymouth off Raglan. Their acreage virtually surrounds the promising Karewa Prospect first drilled by ConocoPhillips, Todd and Japan’s INPEX Corporation during 2002. The US major then left New Zealand, as did Inpex, and Todd tried, unsuccessfully, to work up the marginal Karewa-1 gas-condensate find to something commercial.

Meanwhile, onshore, Canadian listed junior TAG Oil has been awarded two further onshore Taranaki licences – PEP 57065 (Sidewinder North) close to its commercial Sidewinder oil and gas field and PEP 57063 (Wai-iti), a largely coastal permit north of New Plymouth.

Greymouth Petroleum, this country’s second largest integrated energy company, has won another onshore Taranaki permit (PEP 57076) relatively close to some of its existing commercial north Taranaki fields.

London-listed Mosman Oil & Gas has picked up two additional leases – PEP 57067, near Greymouth and its existing onshore West Coast Petroleum Creek Project, and PEP 5706, further north and inland. Mosman also won an onshore, inland East Coast basin licence (PEP 57058) in Wairarapa.

The chief executive of the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand (Pepanz), Cameron Madgwick, welcomed the new permits, saying they could result in “a real increase to the contribution the industry makes to our country”.