A total of seven new areas will be opened up to oil and gas exploration under its block offer tendering system, as the New Zealand government seeks to concentrate activity in a few strategically chosen areas.
Four of the block offer areas are offshore and three onshore.
The four offshore areas are some 186,891 square kilometres in the very lightly explored Northland-Reinga basin, 53,253 sq km of new territory in the Taranaki basin, New Zealand's only commercially producing oil and gas source, 44,015 sq km in the Pegasus/East Coast basin off the Wairarapa and Wellington coasts, and 141,757 sq km in the Great South and Canterbury basins, off the east and southern coasts of the South Island.
The Pegasus basin attracted significant interest from major international oil companies in the third round of block offers last year, with Chevron entering New Zealand as an explorer for the first time in a joint venture with Norwegian state oil company, Statol. Austrian producer OMV also took acreage in the Pegasus basin, following a global marketing effort by the global oil and gas services company, Schlumberger.
Shell New Zealand is due to drill exploration wells in the Great South Basin over the 2015/16 summer.
Onshore territories offered are 1,039 sq km onshore Taranaki, where commercial production already occurs, and two onshore West Coast areas, totalling 3,053 sq km.
No further acreage will be offered in this year's tender round for onshore Hawke's Bay, where some exploration has been occurring but has been controversial with local communities.
The announcements, made today by Energy Minister Simon Bridges at an industry conference in Auckland, comes at a time when many oil companies are pulling back their exploration activity in response to the plunge in global oil prices, which is limiting their ability to fund exploration from cash flow.
Some 3,000 people marched in Auckland yesterday against oil and gas exploration and production, ahead of the conference, citing its effects on climate change and the potential for an oil spill to damage New Zealand's environment.
"Companies are seeking frontier acreage and long-term opportunities like those which New Zealand has to offer, and this government remains committed to attracting major international companies to invest in exploration and development in this country," said Bridges in a statement.
There were consultations with some 189 iwi and hapu and 54 local authorities ahead of the announcement of areas to be included in this year's block offer.