New Zealand Oil & Gas Ltd (NZX: NZO) has not sought any exploration permit extensions for its two permits in the South - one off the coast from Oamaru and the other south of Dunedin.
Given the Government's ban, announced in April, on not offering new offshore exploration permits, permits granted under the previous regime have taken on a new life, given that once surrendered no one else can apply for that area.
New applications are restricted to onshore Taranaki sites only, while the Government will not contest the historical offshore permits, which would avoid becoming involved in any judicial reviews.
However, the old regime requires the offshore permit holders to at some point to commit to drilling; the permits have a limited timeframe, unless an extension is agreed to by permitting agency New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals (NZP&M).
The company (NZOG) has until April next year to commit to drilling the Clipper prospect off Oamaru, or relinquish the permit, and until April 2020, to drill or drop the permit for Toroa, south of Dunedin.
Separately, Austrian-based competitor OMV has sought an extension for its offshore permit, south east from Dunedin, which is due to expire in July next year.
Environmentalists and the Green Party were this week urging the Government to reject OMV's two-year extension bid, which would allow it to further study the seabed geology, but not undertake any drilling.
NZOG was contacted for comment, and a spokesman said no extensions had been sought for either Clipper or Toroa.
Energy Minister Megan Woods has said each permit extension would be considered on a “case by case basis,” which is delegated to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which oversees the permitting agency.
The spokesman said NZOG has approached Dr Woods' office seeking clarification over the “case by case” scenario.
When asked if NZOG intended seeking extensions on either permit, the spokesman said NZOG would await Dr Woods' response first.
He said there was no update on work toward finding joint venture partners for either the Clipper or Toroa prospects, until NZOG's next quarterly report was released.
Both areas in the Great South and Canterbury Basins are considered difficult “frontier” targets, with high test drilling costs. Only non-commercial finds of oil and gas have been found in the area over the past few decades.
OMV purchased the southern permit from Shell, as part of an $NZ974 million asset sale deal earlier this year. Shell then exited New Zealand, following the departures of Houston's Anadarko Petroleum, Brazil's Petrobras, Norway's Statoil and Mobil.
*Simon Hartley is senior business reporter and assistant chief reporter for the Otago Daily Times.