UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 WELLINGTON 000551
STATE FOR EB/TPP, EAP/ANP AND EB/ESC/IEC
STATE PASS USTR-BWEISEL
COMMERCE FOR ABENAISSA/4530/ITA/MAC/AP/OSAO
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ENRG ECON ETRD PREL NZ
SUBJECT: NEW ZEALAND MAY SEE BIGGER HUNT FOR OIL AND GAS
REF: (A) 05 WELLINGTON 859; (B) WELLINGTON 248; (C) 2004 WELLINGTON
(U) Sensitive but unclassified -- please protect accordingly.
Â¶1. (SBU) Summary: Higher oil and gas prices are spurring plans for
new exploratory drilling in several hard-to-reach sites in New
Zealand. The government - despite a preference for expanding
renewable energy sources - has sweetened the pot for prospective
drillers through reductions in royalties and offering them free
access to previously gathered seismic data. But its encouragement
has stepped on toes. ExxonMobil has legally challenged the
government's desire to give other companies access to seismic data
that Mobil purchased on one potentially vast oil and gas field.
Meanwhile, expanded development of New Zealand's existing oil and
gas fields is raising hopes that the nation may be able to reverse a
slow decline in its modest domestic production. Just how much
commercially available gas and oil lies under New Zealand is
speculation. Oil experts say the country has been only lightly
explored, owing in part to its remoteness from the world's major
energy-producing regions. End summary.
Â¶2. (U) New Zealand ranks in the top 25 percent of all countries in
"prospectivity," the term used to describe the likelihood of finding
significant oil and gas reserves. Two potential hydrocarbon
structures that are large enough to draw the attention of major
companies have been identified in the country. One, the Outer
Taranaki Basin, sits near New Zealand's largest producing field,
Maui, off the North Island's southwest coast. Although no
exploration wells have been drilled, seismic data shows promise.
The other structure, the Great South Basin, lies off the bottom of
the South Island and was explored during the 1970s and 1980s, when
four of eight wells drilled found evidence of oil and gas. However,
its development was shelved a quarter century ago after world oil
prices dropped and abundant reserves of cheap gas became available
from the Maui field.
Â¶3. (U) According to a very rough and optimistic estimate, the total
recoverable oil from the two basins could be about one-fifth of
total oil from the North Sea. If the estimates are right, the two
fields also potentially could defer proposals to fill the gap in New
Zealand gas needs by importing liquefied natural gas. Drilling in
the basins presents an expensive gamble since they lie offshore in
deep water. The Great South Basin is known for huge wave swells and
has no nearby oil industry infrastructure.
Â¶4. (U) New Zealand -- roughly the size of Great Britain -- has been
under-explored, with only 700 wells drilled to date. That compares
with the approximately 65,000 wells that have been drilled in
Canada. Shell abandoned exploration in New Zealand in 2004 to focus
on developing existing fields elsewhere, becoming the last major oil
explorer to exit the country. Major oil and gas companies have
shied away because of New Zealand's remoteness and the high costs of
exploration, an industry representative said. One company estimated
the costs of drilling in New Zealand to be double those in the lower
48 United States. Because of the potential discoveries' geology,
companies face higher upfront costs and prospects of a longer
pay-back on their investments, according to a company executive.
The prospective fields are expected to be subtle, stratigraphic
traps, which are harder to find and require modern seismic
techniques, more data and analysis. Future wells will need to go
deep; about 7 percent of the country's wells are drilled deeper than
12,500 feet (4,100 meters).
Â¶5. (SBU) However, higher world oil prices are helping override the
industry's reluctance. In addition, the slowing output of natural
gas from the Maui field -- which has provided up to 50 percent of
the country's oil and almost all its gas needs for more than 20
years -- has helped double the price of natural gas in New Zealand
over the last three years, encouraging public support of the search
for new gas discoveries. Explorers have shown increased interest in
New Zealand in recent months. Whereas the government's request for
bids to explore two offshore blocks drew no industry interest two
years ago, two permits were granted on one of the blocks in
February. Permits have been issued for all designated, immediate
offshore basins. Major oil companies, including Mobil Oil and
Shell, are again sizing up the Great South Basin's potential.
Reflecting the increased interest, an ExxonMobil senior executive
for exploration has been scheduled for an unusual meeting with
Energy Minister David Parker and Associate Energy Minister Harry
Duynhoven the week of July 17.
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Â¶6. (U) While the government's energy policy aims to increase the
nation's reliance on renewables (ref A), New Zealand officials are
working to lure mid-size explorers by offering free seismic data.
The government has reduced from 20 percent to 15 percent the
royalties it charges for gas -- but not oil -- discoveries made
between 2004 and 2009. The government also has promised to consider
tax changes later this year, including more favorable treatment of
oil and gas research and development costs.
Â¶7. (SBU) Predictably, the industry does not think the government is
doing enough to promote exploration and production. Its wish list
is long. The industry representative complained that the
government's requirement that companies drill within three years of
being granted a license is especially onerous. Whereas the royalty
regime appears favorable by international standards, the industry
believes that lower royalties are needed to ensure expanded
investment in New Zealand. It also wants further incentives for oil
companies and changes in tax policy, such as an exemption from the
excise tax for a certain amount of a project's first oil and gas
production and accelerated depreciation of development expenditures.
The industry also has asked for a simplified and standardized
Â¶8. (SBU) In recent months, the government has turned its attention
to large explorers, recognizing that deep pockets are better able to
swing the high costs of exploring the Great South Basin. The
government expects to open 40 blocks in the basin for tender this
month. ExxonMobil has expressed interest, and an industry member
said the government is using a dispute with the company to draw the
attention of other large companies to the area. ExxonMobil has sued
the government to keep for its exclusive use seismic data on the
Great South Basin that ExxonMobil purchased from a survey company in
February 2005 for US $3.2 million. The government contends the data
should be publicly available. As a condition of an exploration
permit, companies are required to share seismic data with the
government, which can share it with other exploration companies if
the permit expires or is revoked. Mobil, however, said it has never
been a permit holder. No date has been set yet for a court
Â¶9. (U) The data was gathered by a Norwegian survey company for a
consortium headed by Bounty Oil of Australia, which held a permit to
explore the track. The government revoked the permit largely
because Bounty had not begun drilling within the specified three
years. The High Court on June 27 rejected Bounty Oil's appeal
against the permit's revocation, clearing the way for the tender.
Bounty had estimated that there is a 10 percent chance of finding
4.5 billion barrels of oil and 315 trillion cubic feet of gas, which
is 80 times the gas extracted from the Maui field.
New production flows
Â¶10. (U) In the meantime, new supplies of oil from five known fields
are expected to come on-stream by the end of 2007, which would more
than quadruple New Zealand's current production of 20,000 barrels
per day. Such an increase would supply up to 70 percent of the
country's oil demand by 2008, up from the current level of 18
percent, according to the Ministry of Economic Development.
Companies involved in developing the five fields include Shell, OMV
of Austria, New Zealand Oil and Gas, Origin Energy of Australia,
Todd Energy of New Zealand, and Swift Energy, based in Houston.
Ministry officials predict that the increased production will shave
more than NZ $2 billion (US $1.45 billion) off New Zealand's current
account deficit, which stood at NZ $3.38 billion in 2005. (New
Zealand's premium-priced light sweet crude is sold overseas, while
imports of cheaper heavy crude oil is refined at the country's sole
refinery. The country uses no oil for electricity generation,
relying instead on hydro, gas, coal, geothermal and wind. Ref C.)
Â¶11. (U) Swift Energy and Pogo Producing Company are the largest U.S.
companies exploring for oil and gas in New Zealand. ExxonMobil and
Chevron are the two U.S. companies involved in the retail gasoline
Â¶12. (U) Separately, the New Zealand government is working to meet
the International Energy Agency's requirement to hold 90 days'
supply of oil reserves (ref B). Current stocks would last about 60
days. Energy Minister Parker has told the media that he expects the
target to be achieved by the end of 2006. Tenders to hold oil
stockpiles are expected to go out this month, with the cost of the
oil reserves expected to cost the government about NZ $50 million
(US $30.4 million) in each of the next three to five years. Oil
companies fear that, if the tender fails, the government will foist
the cost of maintaining the additional reserves onto the industry.
WELLINGTON 00000551 003 OF 003
New Zealand also is discussing government-to-government arrangements
with a number of countries, including the United States, to hold oil
stock on New Zealand's behalf.
Â¶13. (SBU) The oil industry maintains that the New Zealand government
needs to do more to boost oil exploration in the country. However,
recent announcements of new drilling projects indicate that the
prospect of continued high oil and gas prices is doing more than
government incentives to lure investment to domestic exploration.